Where I Stand: Preserve Local Democracy: Submit a Public Records Act Request Today
By Josh Hart, Spokesperson FeatherRiverAction.org / PlumasWired.org
Do you ever wonder what local governments are doing with our money? Why that pothole has been around for years, or how other decisions are being made that impact our lives ? Why it’s difficult to have your voice heard—much less listened to—at public meetings, and what goes on in between those meetings that determines how public money is spent (or squandered), money that could be going to improve our communities and lives, bring jobs, and increase opportunities for locals?
Fortunately, the state of California has an open records law called the “Public Records Act” or PRA. Since cities and counties are public agencies funded by the public, their records, including e-mails, documents, letters etc., are publicly available to view when requested. Sometimes, the results you get from a PRA request are fairly boring and bland, but many times they provide a key insight into the inner workings of our local governments, and help the public understand, become more involved, and even reform local governments. Occasionally they reveal illegal actions by officials that can be challenged and overturned in court.
Submitting a PRA request is easy. For Plumas County, simply e-mail the clerk of the board at [email protected] and include the specific subject matter you are interested in. For the City of Portola, send your request to [email protected]. You can also request records from any agency that receives taxpayer dollars, including commissions, departments, hospitals, and school districts. They are all required by law to respond to you within ten business days.
Go ahead and give it a try. Healthy governance requires public participation. If you find out anything interesting, write a letter to the editor and let the rest of us know about it! Public government should be open government, accountable to the public for the hard-earned money we give to them. If there is reluctance or obstruction in responding to PRA requests, as is the case with the current Portola City Manager, that’s not only violating the spirit of public service, it is breaking the law— and one step away from authoritarianism.