Saturday, September 11, 2010 – 10:30 a.m.
Last Updated: September 11, 2001 – 01:30 p.m.

This Tuesday, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors will consider the adoption of a so-called ‘Sunshine Ordinance’ proposed by Third District Supervisor Neil Derry.

Something The Sun newspaper hailed this week as a major change towards greater transparency in San Bernardino County government.

It seems the newspaper, along with the rest of us, were in fact duped. The current proposal may as well be toilet paper. The word “toothless” comes to mind.

The proposed ‘Sunshine Ordinance’ is a long time in coming to county supervisors, primarily thanks to County Counsel Ruth Stringer. Stringer has been a constant impediment to the ordinance coming to fruition. Over the past year, there has been at least four halts to the enactment coming before supervisors.

All courtesy of the county counsel.

I suppose Stringer must consider this a parting shot as she is forced out of county government.

This time it seems Stringer and a certain county-wide elected official obtained the language they wanted under the following section below.

19.0301. Release of Public Records – Sunshine of Documents.

(a) The Board of Supervisors and the Legislature, mindful of the right of individuals to privacy, finds and declares that access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this County. There shall be a presumption that the record sought is public, and the burden shall be upon the custodian to articulate with specificity the exemption which applies.

(b) All requests for public records shall be directed to the department or Board office responsible for the records requested or to the Clerk of the Board, who shall direct the request to the appropriate department or Board office. The Public Records Act sets forth timelines for responding to such requests and providing records. Each Board office and department will respond to and provide the requested records as rapidly as possible, striving to provide them sooner than the timelines in the Public Records Act. Said timelines should never be asserted to delay fulfilling a simple, routine or otherwise readily answerable request. When gathering documents responsive to a request, the Board office or department will not withhold all of the records that are responsive to the request until all potentially responsive documents have been gathered and reviewed, but will rather provide them in stages as gathered and reviewed.

(c) County officers and employees will promptly provide records of reimbursement of expenditures with as little redacted as possible, except information routinely redacted by the County Auditor to deter identity theft and protect privacy. This includes, but is not limited to, all bills, claims, invoices, vouchers or other records of payment and disbursements showing the amount paid, the payee and the purpose for which payment is made. The detail on restaurant, hotel and similar bills that are submitted for reimbursement should not be redacted. As technology advances, the County Auditor will devise a system where records of reimbursement of expenditures can be posted and accessed by the public on the County’s website.

(d) Acknowledging that it is a privilege that can be asserted by an individual, County officers and officials are discouraged from asserting the “deliberative process” privilege as to records reflecting meetings or contacts where County business is discussed with persons who are not County officers, officials or employees, except under circumstances where that person requests anonymity or the officer or official, in the exercise of his or her sound discretion, determines that the preservation of anonymity is in the best interest of the proper functioning of her/her office. In no case should the “deliberative process privilege” be asserted as to the identities of other County staff members at such meetings or contacts.

Simply translated. If an individual county officer or official elects to do so, he or she may assert the same “deliberative process” privilege that for years has impeded the release of itemized credit card transactions and receipts. Documents that for years have been sought out by various individuals and the media.

In other words nothing has changed.

For more than a year it has been suspected that county supervisors were fearful of District Attorney Mike Ramos. Some supervisors have privately admitted as much. From the looks of this sham of an ordinance that belief is correct. Ramos has been aggressively attacking county supervisors with a goal of keeping any action detrimental to him at bay. One of those actions? Keeping his county-paid credit card abuse hidden.

Sources close to the situation are saying supervisors have been pressuring for changes that water down the ordinance. Something Derry opposed. Obviously they succeeded

The ‘Sunshine ordinance’ as presented, does nothing more than codify the county’s current practice of obstruction. County supervisors should rush to praise and pass this hollow measure.

Derry needs to come clean and tell everyone what really happened here.

The Auditor-Controller is the repository for all disbursements and financial records. To say county supervisors have no authority to mandate their release is absurd.

It’s time for either an up or down vote without the watered-down section or the withdrawal of the proposal.

Stop trying to deceive taxpayers.

Maybe it’s time for an actual voter-approved charter amendment.