Posted: 09/27/2010 06:41:11 PM PDT

San Bernardino County’s supervisors should approve Neil Derry’s Sunshine Ordinance when it comes before them today.

We were in favor of the ordinance the way it read about three weeks ago, before county counsel reviewed it and sent it back to Supervisor Derry with suggested changes. Derry’s office has rewritten the measure substantially, making it much more to the point and less likely to need amendments, but weakening it in one significant area.

It’s much tighter now, a slim 10-page proposed law instead of the unwieldy 58-pager that county counsel sent back. Derry’s office removed much material that duplicated language that already appears in established law such as the California Public Records Act. (And let’s face it, county officials are much likelier to read and absorb a 10-pager than they were the previous version.)

Our single disappointment is that the current version is weaker than Derry’s original version in prohibiting the use of “deliberative process” as reason not to release government information. At first he prohibited its use by any county official or employee.

Deliberative process does not exist in any California statute, but derives from a 1991 state Supreme Court decision that found that releasing the governor’s entire calendar “would inhibit the governor’s deliberative process in some instances …” by making others less likely to meet with him. The court did not extend the privilege to any official but the governor – it’s similar to the president’s executive privilege.

Unfortunately, San Bernardino County Supervisor Paul Biane and then-supervisor Bill Postmus cited deliberative process – illegally in our view – to hide their calendars for the 2006 period during which two major wildfires scorched the county and Postmus, then supervisors chairman, was nowhere to be found. He was in drug rehab, we know now.

The county has invoked the privilege, for example, to hide the identity of a person who had dinner in Hong Kong with county officials on the taxpayers’ dime. Derry’s ordinance prohibits that by precluding the privilege where county payments and disbursements are involved – an excellent change.

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