A State of Secrets

When the question is how effective California state and local governments are, the honest answer is: we don't know.

California law keeps so many public records secret that holding government accountable is next to impossible.

Brian Joseph of the Orange County Register recently did Californians the good service of detailing all the ways the government keeps things secret. He wrote:

"An Orange County Register review of the Government Code found at least 500 provisions that exempt specific records or information from public disclosure while another 16 code sections prohibit the release of broad categories of documents, including every complaint filed with a licensing body or investigatory agency, all communications with members of the Legislature and any document whose release does not serve the public interest."

That last exemption is so broad as to shield almost anything from public disclosure. And the failure to make complaints public is nearly as bad, since shielding those records makes it difficult to figure out if licensing and investigative agencies are doing the vital work of protecting citizens.

Secrecy often protects powerful interests. It also fuels cynicism about government. This state needs a sunshine law that makes every public record truly public, with only the most limited exceptions to protect the privacy of ordinary citizens.

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