Sunshine law broadened in two Calif. counties p. 17

By: Editorial Staff IN THE WAKE of heavy media lobbying, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors in Northern California passed a sunshine ordinance that goes beyond the state's open meetings laws.
The measure expands access to county boards, commissions and committees, provides access to written reports four days before they are to be discussed at a meeting, prohibits secret lawsuit settlements, guarantees acquisition of computerized records and orders access to individuals whose identities are kept secret at the request of county authorities.
Clayton Haswell, executive editor of Lesher Communications Inc., said the passage makes Contra Costa and San Francisco the only counties in California that exceed minimum disclosure requirements mandated by state law.
The "Better Government Ordinance" was urged by Haswell; Contra Costa Times publisher George Riggs; political editor Daniel Borenstein; the California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC) and various other journalists.
Haswell said the main beneficiary of the measure will be the public, which will have access to staff reports 96 hours before votes by policy makers. In addition, he said, taxpayers will get a broader look at how the county spends their money through such provisions as the requirement that top managers' salaries be discussed in public.
The ordinance was opposed by District Attorney Gary Yancey and Sheriff Warren Rupf, who claimed it would undermine law enforcement. Rupf later withdrew his objections.
"We need to be able to reassure people they can come and talk to us . . . and be sure their identifies will remain confidential," Yancey told supervisors.
Riggs, who also was present at the board meeting, replied: "We're fortunate that our illustrious district attorney wasn't around when the Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution. I can just hear him arguing that government could never function if such a restrictive piece of legislation ever passed."
CFAC executive director Terry Francke said he will launch a campaign to encourage newspaper editors statewide to push for similar ordinances.


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