Eye on Sacramento Urges City Council: Give Back the Tax!

MEDIA RELEASE

Date/Time: March 21, 2016, 4:00 p.m.
Contacts: Craig Powell, President,
Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 718-3030
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org

Sacramento City Council Poised to Increase Utility Taxes By

$10 Million/Year as Part of its Major City Utilities Rate Hikes;

Eye on Sacramento Urges Council: Give Back the Tax!

Tomorrow evening, the Sacramento City Council is poised to approve double-digit, four-year hikes in city water and sewer rates. In 2018, the council is expected to seek voter approval of 16% annual hikes – for four straight years – in the city’s storm drainage rate. Collectively, the water, sewer and storm drainage rate hikes, if approved, would draw an estimated $88 million more each year from the pockets of Sacramento residents and businesses once fully implemented.

But there is more to the story.

Because of an imbedded 11% city “utility tax” that is unknown to most city residents, close to $10 million of the $88 million will be siphoned each year from utility customer payments and diverted into the city’s general fund to pay for the general costs of government. The diversions will reduce resources available to keep city water safe and clean, and to keep our sewer and storm drainage systems operating effectively. The diversions also drive up the need for future city utility rate hikes.

“The Council has a clear conflict of interest in deciding whether and how much to increase city utility rates,” said Eye on Sacramento President Craig Powell. “They know full well that for every dollar they increase city utility rates, they automatically divert 11 cents of that dollar into the city’s general fund due to the utility tax. This creates an almost perverse incentive for tax-hungry politicians to raise utilities rates as high as possible so as to inject more dollars into the general fund which councilmembers can spend any way they please,” Powell added.

“The Council can eliminate its conflict of interest and ease the burden on hard-pressed Sacramento residents and businesses quite easily: by returning to the Department of Utilities the $10 million in higher utility taxes that the utility rate hikes would generate each year, preferably with instructions to rebate 100% of the funds to utility customers,” Powell said.

“Several councilmembers have made public statements that major utility rate hikes are needed to upgrade and maintain our water, sewer and storm drainage systems. If that is, in fact, their sole and honest motivation for supporting major rate hikes, they can prove it quite easily by returning the nearly $10 million in higher utility taxes that the rate hikes will generate each year back to the Department of Utilities, instead of snatching it from the pockets of hard-pressed ratepayers for purposes entirely unrelated to utilities service,” Powell concluded.

Just how hard-pressed are Sacramento residents? Based on the most recently available data from the U.S. Census, EOS has computed that the mean household income in Sacramento has declined a stunning 12% from 2007 thru 2013.

The City Council will meet tomorrow evening, Tuesday, March 22nd, at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall, 915 I Street, Sacramento, CA 95814. Make your voice heard by phoning, e-mailing or coming down to City Hall tomorrow evening to make your voice heard on these important issues. Join us in urging the City Council to “GIVE BACK THE TAX!”

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Proposed RT Rate Hike & Alternative Solutions to RT’s Fiscal Crisis

MEDIA RELEASE

Date/Time: March 14, 2016, 1:30 p.m.
Contacts: Craig Powell, President,
Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 718-3030
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org

Professor Greg L. Thompson, Chair
EOS Transportation Committee
Phone: (916) 246-9230
E-mail: greglthompson123@gmail.com

Eye on Sacramento Issues Report Critical of Proposed RT Fare

Hikes and Proposing Alternative Solutions to RT’s Fiscal Crisis

Eye on Sacramento (EOS) issued a report today that is highly critical of a proposal to hike RT fares by 20%, which would make them tied with New York City for the highest transit fares in the county. The report sets forth dozens of proposals for closing RT’s looming budget deficits by reducing RT’s operating expenses without significant cuts to service levels. The RT board of directors will be considering its staff’s fare hike proposal at an RT board meeting this evening.

The EOS report is titled “Avoiding Both Bankruptcy and a Transit Death Spiral.” It makes the case that RT doesn’t have to choose between imposing huge, damaging fare increases, which could very well trigger a transit death spiral, on the one hand, and doing nothing about its looming financial crisis, which would likely lead to bankruptcy, on the other. The EOS report proposes a “third way” for RT to work its way out of its current fiscal crisis: smartly managing its way through the crisis with a laser beam focus on shedding unnecessary costs, renegotiating burdensome labor and other contracts and putting what have been sacrosanct and inefficient functions out to competitive bid.

“There is a road thru RT’s current financial crisis that does not involve massive fare hikes that will punish RT riders, drive down already depressed ridership and risk a transit death spiral,” said EOS President Craig Powell. “EOS has offered today what is essentially a roadmap for how RT can move beyond its fiscal crisis by reining in RT’s bloated operating costs without any serious cuts to service levels. It’s now a question of whether the RT board and its management can marshal the political courage to take the cost-cutting actions that are essential to stabilizing RT’s very shaky finances and protecting its vital role as provider of transit in our region,” Powell added. “The era of protecting sacred cows and entrenched interests must end at RT if it’s to avoid the awful choice between bankruptcy and a transit death spiral,” Powell concluded.

The principal author of EOS’s report is Professor Greg L. Thompson, who recently retired from the faculty of Florida State University. Professor Thompson is a transit expert who currently serves as chair of the Committee on Light Rail Transit of the Transportation Research Board, a Washington, D.C-based organization.

To View/Download EOS’s report, click here
To View/Download the Executive Summary of EOS’s report, click here

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The Pot Tax … Helping kids at the expense of the general fund

By Craig Powell

Jay Schenirer means well, he really does. But programs launched with the best of intentions are no guarantee of sound policy or effectiveness, as Schenirer’s recent proposal confirms.

His basic idea is to dramatically increase city funding of programs for children and young adults by getting voters in June to approve a “new” 5 percent tax on marijuana cultivation, with the proceeds directed exclusively to youth services, bypassing the city’s general fund. Schenirer and his hardworking staff have spent the past year compiling research studies that show the benefits such programs can have on outcomes for kids.

Schenirer is certainly not new to youth issues: He’s spent most of his adult life working on them—in state service, on the city school board, as an education consultant and as the founder of youth-focused nonprofits since his 2010 election to the city council. (He’s raised more private funds for these nonprofits from corporations and foundations than any other councilmember with the exception of our city’s star private fundraiser, Mayor Kevin Johnson.) Schenirer is almost certainly the council’s foremost authority on youth issues, with Rick Jennings—the long-term CEO of the Center for Fathers and Families who served on the city school board alongside Schenirer—a close second.

Schenirer and his staff have prepared a thoughtful 22-page blueprint for how to create a new city department of youth services, an idea that city manager John Shirey threw cold water on by calling it a wasteful increase in city overhead. Shirey prefers to have the parks department, which administers the city’s current youth services programs, handle any expansion of such programs.

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Hikes Would Impose the Highest Bus Fare in the Country, Higher Than New York City

MEDIA RELEASE

For Immediate Release
Release Date/Time: January 25, 2016; 1:45 p.m.
Contact: Craig Powell, President, Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 718-3030
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org

Survey Data Show that Regional Transit’s Proposed Fare

Hikes Would Impose the Highest Bus Fare in the Country, Higher Than New York City

R.T.’s Growing Financial Crisis Cries Out for Governance Reforms To Control Escalating Costs

Eye on Sacramento (EOS) announced today that its analysis of survey data of bus fares charged by transit systems throughout the U.S. and Canada shows that the 20 percent fare hike (from $2.50 to $3.00) being considered tonight by the Regional Transit board of directors (6:00 p.m.) would, if approved, impose a bus fare on Sacramento residents that would be the highest in both the U.S. and Canada, exceeding bus fares charged by all transit systems in both countries.

EOS researchers examined the database maintained by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), specifically its 2015 Public Transportation Fare Database of fares charged by transit agencies throughout the U.S. and Canada. EOS analyzed the APTA Fare Database to identify regular base fares, exclude fares for intercity commuter service and to convert Canadian fares to U.S. dollars at prevailing exchange rates.

EOS’s finding that RT’s proposed $3.00 bus fare would be the highest in the U.S. is confirmed by the World Atlas, which published a report on November 17, 2015, which tabulated the highest transit fares in the world and identified New York City as the city with the then highest U.S. fare at $2.80 per subway ride, a fare which would be eclipsed by RT’s proposed $3.00 fare.

RT’s Unprecedented Proposed Fare Hikes Are a Sign of Deepening Crisis at RT

RT is facing a major financial crisis that has been a long time in the making. In the past five years its operating costs have risen by 29% (according to RT’s staff report on the proposed fare hike), while inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, over that same period rose only 8.7%. RT experienced such a major escalation in expenses despite the fact that energy costs, which have a major impact on RT’s bottom line, have declined significantly in recent years.

Raising fares to the highest in the nation to deal with such a crisis is a desperate and potentially reckless move that would punish low-income, seniors and transit-dependent Sacramento residents for RT management’s failure to rein in RT’s escalating costs of operation. It would push the price of basic transportation beyond the reach of potentially tens of thousands of people, leading to further revenue declines and a pernicious cycle of rate hikes/ridership drops that could very well lead to the system’s bankruptcy. (We take note of RT’s recently adopted board policy which calls for fare hikes every two years.) And the fare hikes would do nothing to address the real source of RT’s financial problems: its failure to control rapidly increasing operating costs.

RT’s Governing Board Needs Major Reform

RT’s governing board is comprised of 11 elected officials from the County of Sacramento and the cities that RT serves. “Historically and by natural inclination, politicians prefer to spend money to keep constituents happy rather than cut spending which makes constituents unhappy. Politicians are too often beholden to well-heeled special interests with agendas that differ from the broad public interest. Finally, local officials serve on an excessive number of boards, commissions and committees in addition to their primary duties as elected officials on their own jurisdictions’ governing board,” said EOS President Craig Powell.

“Sacramento city councilmembers, for example, serve on more than a dozen different governing boards, commissions, joint power authorities and committees (in addition to the city council), which stretches their ability to provide meaningful, informed, engaged and responsible oversight of RT and its staff beyond the capacity of even a superhuman,” said Powell.

“It is time for our local elected officials to recognize their human limitations and do the right thing by appointing experienced, independent and highly qualified individuals to serve on the RT board who will be better able to oversee RT management, as well as represent their jurisdiction’s interests in their place and stead. We support the Sacramento business community’s recent policy initiative which includes a recommendation that the Sacramento city council appoint experienced business men and women to represent Sacramento on the RT board. We encourage the leaders of all local jurisdictions to do the same, balanced with appointees who can represent the interests of all RT stakeholders, such as riders, seniors, the disabled and last, but by no means least, taxpayer,” Powell added.

“We recognize that such governance reforms may require charter and even legislative amendments. Given RT’s dire financial condition, there is no time to waste in enacting them,” Powell concluded.

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A bitter divorce on ethics reform

FOON RHEE

SEPTEMBER 30, 2015

Eye on Sacramento and League of Women Voters joined forces to push City Hall

But after holding 10 public forums, the two groups disagreed on policy and tactics

Now, league is backing city plan, while watchdog group is mulling ballot measure

BY FOON RHEE

Sacramento City Council ethics reform is a must

EDITORIALS  SEPTEMBER 7, 2015

HIGHLIGHTS

Watchdog group’s ethics recommendations should not be dismissed

Public accountability and access are properly the focus of recommendations

Ironically, City Council committee has been discussing ethics behind close doors

IMG_J_JV_051215_COUNCIL__2_1_MP4QAIUU_L126192555

Sacramento City Councilman Allen Warren was replaced as leader of the council’s ethics reform effort after news of a sexual harassment claim against him. Warren has denied his former aide’s allegations. José Luis Villegas jvillegas@sacbee.com

BY THE EDITORIAL BOARD

As Sacramento’s elected officials hem and haw, a local watchdog group has set the bar on transparency and ethics reform.

After holding public forums with the League of Women Voters, Eye on Sacramento is calling for four major changes at City Hall:

▪ An open government ordinance that guarantees and increases public access and accountability. It includes keeping all city emails for at least 10 years, requiring ad hoc City Council committees to meet in public and adding an independent city auditor, not one appointed by the council.

▪ A city ethics code, including strict rules on nepotism, conflicts of interest and sexual harassment, plus a cap on donations made to charities at the behest of elected officials. That would hamstring Mayor Kevin Johnson, who has persuaded donors to contribute huge sums to charities of his choice.

▪ An independent ethics commission, likely appointed by retired judges, to enforce the code and state ethics laws. It would have the power to subpoena records, compel witnesses to testify under oath and to fine and censure officials, or even seek to kick them out of office.

▪ An independent redistricting commission to draw City Council districts. There should be no doubt this is needed for the 2020 Census after the fiasco after the 2010 count. The council appointed a citizens committee, but ignored its maps and approved its own.

These are reasonable ideas deserving of serious consideration by a City Council committee, which was appointed by the mayor and is supposed to issue its report later this month.

We don’t know exactly what the council panel has in mind because it has been meeting in private – which is amazingly hypocritical.

The mayor’s spokesman assures us the council’s recommendations will reflect all citizens’ values, not just those of a special interest group. Eye on Sacramento’s proposals should not be dismissed lightly.

If the council does not approve reforms, Eye on Sacramento is prepared to go to the ballot in 2016. It would be far better if council members and the group’s leaders can agree on a plan. Whether in office or outside City Hall, everyone should want a more open and ethical government.
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/editorials/article34326018.html

 

 

Eye on Sacramento Releases Package of Proposed City Reforms

MEDIA RELEASE

For Immediate Release
Release Date/Time: September 2, 2015; 10:15 a.m.
Contact: Craig Powell, President, Eye on Sacramento
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org
Phone: (916) 718-3030

Erik Smitt, EOS Policy Director
E-mail: erik@eyeonsacramento.org
Phone: (916) 215-2275

Restoring Accountability:

Eye on Sacramento Releases Package of Proposed

City Ethics, Transparency and Redistricting Reforms

At a press conference this morning, local government watchdog group Eye on Sacramento (EOS) presented a package of ethics, transparency and redistricting reforms proposals for the City of Sacramento.

“The reform proposals we are releasing today are the culmination of ten very well-attended public forums held in every part of Sacramento earlier this year, followed by three months of extensive research and careful deliberation by our numerous volunteers and study groups, “said EOS president Craig Powell.  “These reforms are designed to make Sacramento the most open, transparent and ethically accountable municipal government in California and to help restore citizens’ trust in their city government.  It’s a package in which we, as citizens and residents of Sacramento, can take real pride,” Powell added.

The package includes summaries of each of the “Four Pillars of Reform:”

(1) A cutting edge Sunshine Ordinance that will make it easier for residents to participate, and have a more effective role, in City decision-making and will open up City government records and data to public review and media scrutiny to the greatest extent practicable;

(2) An Ethics Code that will set minimal standards of ethical conduct expected of our city officials;

(3) An independent and empowered Ethics Commission that will have the means and authority to hold public officials accountable for misconduct and to exonerate them whenever they’re subjected to unsubstantiated claims, through the application of rules that will provide strong due process protections; and

(4) An independent citizens Redistricting Commission that will, at long last, bring an end to the unhealthy and undemocratic practice of councilmembers drawing their own council district lines (aka picking their own voters) and shift that power to a panel of citizens who will have final authority to draw council district boundaries.

Also presented was a 12-page “Summary of Public Comment” (copy attached), that recaps the numerous comments received from the public at our Kick-Off Forum in February, our seven District Forums and our final Work Shop Forum at the Clunie Clubhouse on May 17th.  The forums were jointly sponsored by EOS and the League of Women Voters, as well as 23 co-sponsoring community organizations.

Public Disclosure of Proposals Before Closed-Door Negotiations With City Officials

“Representatives of our reform effort are expecting to meet within the next few days with city officials in closed door meetings to discuss our reform proposals in detail, to explore common ground and to, hopefully, reach agreement on the adoption/endorsement of a set of reforms that are mutually acceptable to all parties,” Powell said.

“Before our representatives go behind closed doors to negotiate these proposals, however, we feel we have an obligation to first release our reform proposals to our forum attendees, our supporters, the media and the public at large,” Powell added.  “The public deserves to know exactly where we stand at the beginning of these negotiations so that they can assess where we end up at the end of them,” Powell concluded.

Plan B: A Ballot Initiative

“We’re pursuing these reforms on two different, but parallel, tracks.  Given the significant time and effort it takes to qualify an initiative for the November 2016 general election ballot, we’re entering into negotiations with city officials in pursuit of a mutual agreement while we’re concurrently taking the steps necessary to qualify our reform proposals for the November 2016 ballot,” said Powell.  “It is our great preference that we reach an acceptable agreement with city officials, but we’re doing the necessary ground work to bring our reform proposals before Sacramento voters in November 2016,” Powell added.

“Given the growing number of claims asserted against councilmembers, the city auditor’s recent finding of nepotism in the Department of Utilities, the city’s efforts this year to mass delete 85 million e-mails, the alleged use of city staff and resources for political purposes and the shrouding of city e-mails via the use of private e-mail accounts, the need to establish accountability in city government through effective ethics, transparency and redistricting reforms is acute,” Powell concluded.

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To view/download a copy of the Media Release click here
To view/download a copy of the Sunshine Ordinance Summary click here
To view/download a copy of the Ethics Code Summary click here
To view/download a copy of the Ethics Commission Summary click here
To view/download a copy of the Redistricting Commission Summary click here
To view/download a copy of the 12-page “Summary of Public Comment” click here

Fire Alarm … Ambulance Reform Would Challenge Firefighters Union

By Craig Powell

In some sense, the city’s fire department is a 20th century relic operating in a 21st century world. And with its entrenched practices staunchly protected against change by what’s acknowledged to be the city’s most powerful union, Fire Fighters Local 522, the fire department has been essentially immune to efforts by city officials to drag it into modernity. Few have even tried to reform it; none has come anywhere close to succeeding.

To his credit, freshman Councilmember Jeff Harris has stepped up to the plate and is making cost-saving reform of the city’s ambulance service, operated by the fire department, a major priority. What’s more, he may very well succeed where most haven’t even bothered to try.

Why is the fire department so resistant to change? Fire chief Walt White is only the 21st chief in the department’s 165-year history. And he’s the first chief in city history to be appointed from outside of the ranks of the fire department. Organizational change is not exactly a prevailing value in the fire department. White didn’t have to travel far to take the job. Before joining the fire department last year, White spent his career with the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, a nearby district with a long history of paying firefighter salaries that are among the highest in California and a district board dominated by members elected with the financial support of Local 522.

Apart from history and tradition, the status quo in the fire department is vociferously defended by Local 522, whose political action committee typically brings in $150,000 annually and whose cash balance stood at $330,000 at the end of last year. It showers money on candidates for city council. When Angelique Ashby ran for the council in 2010, Local 522 not only gave her campaign $6,500; it spent another $26,826 in an independent expenditure campaign on her behalf. Such outsized political “investments” buy influence and power.

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Press Conference On Suit to Halt City of Sacramento’s Mass Deletion of City E-mails

MEDIA RELEASE

Date/Time: July 23, 2015; 11:00 a.m.
Contacts: Erik Smitt, Policy Director,
Eye on Sacramento
E-mail: erik@eyeonsacramento.org
Phone: (916) 215-2275

Paul Nicholas Boylan, Attorney,
E-mail: PNBoylan@gmail.com
Phone: (530) 297-7184

Eye on Sacramento Holds Press Conference at County Courthouse

On Suit to Halt City of Sacramento’s Mass Deletion of City E-mails

At a press conference today, Eye On Sacramento, a member of the growing community coalition advocating for robust ethics, transparency and redistricting reform of City government, provided  updates on the lawsuit against the City of Sacramento to enforce the California Public Records Act (CPRA) to prevent the City from deleting over 50 million emails that form an irreplaceable part of the public record.

A Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) was granted by the Honorable Judge Shelleyanne W. L. Chang on July 7, which restrained the City from destroying these emails on Wednesday, July 8, as the City had planned.

The hearing for the Permanent Injunction will take place at the Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse, 720 9th Street, Sacramento, tomorrow, Friday, July 24, 2:30 pm, Department 24, the Honorable Judge Shelleyanne W. L. Chang presiding.

The Petitioners are asking Judge Chang to issue a Permanent Injunction preventing the City from erasing the public record and destroying the emails the petitioners want to access.  If the City destroys these emails, the public’s constitutional right to access these emails will be irrevocably injured and the City will be in violation of the California Public Records Act.

The Petitioners in the lawsuit are Richard Stevenson, a member of Eye on Sacramento, and Katy Grimes, Journalist.  Both Petitioners have filed formal requests to access emails the City intends on destroying and are suing the City under the CPRA to enforce their rights to gain access to these records.  The Petitioners, through attorney Paul Boylan, have made tireless efforts to reach an agreement with the City Attorney; those efforts have failed.

Since the TRO, Eye on Sacramento has contacted several City Council-members to resolve the issues through the enactment of new City policies that would mandate that City officials preserve City e-mails. Councilmembers will not speak with EOS on the advice of the City Attorney.

“It is clear that the City’s issues with e-mail storage space are a mere front for the objective of erasing history and covering up the past.” Erik Smitt, Policy Director.

“Eye on Sacramento is focused on transparency and citizen access to all mechanisms of government.  Deletion of public records is contrary to the principles of open government and the public’s right to know.” Erik Smitt, Policy Director.

Concurrently with the press conference, Paul Boylan, attorney for the petitioners in the case, issued the following statement: “The discussions I have had with the City have been productive, but only up to a point that is far short of resolving this conflict.  I am left with the impression that the City’s only goal is to destroy as many emails as possible and is gaming the system to achieve that goal.  The City’s goal should be preservation of public records. Thus far, the City has demonstrated no pressing need to destroy anything.”

Open Government … transparent, responsive, accountable!

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Lawsuit to Enforce the California Public Records Act (CPRA)

MEDIA RELEASE

July 6, 2015

Contact:

Erik Smitt, Policy Director, 916-215-2275, Erik@ eyeonsacramento.org

Paul Nicholas Boylan, Attorney, 530-297-7184, PNBoylan@gmail.com

In a press release today Eye On Sacramento, a member of the community coalition advocating for robust ethics, transparency and redistricting reform of City government, notifies the press that a lawsuit has been filed with the Sacramento County Superior Court seeking to enforce the California Public Records Act (CPRA), and an application has been made for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to prevent the City of Sacramento from deleting emails that form a critical, irreplaceable part of the public record.

If the application for a TRO is denied, the City will destroy these emails on Wednesday, July 8.

The hearing for the TRO will take place at the Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse, 720 9th Street, Sacramento, on July 7, 2:30 pm, Department 24, the Honorable Judge Shelleyanne W. L. Chang presiding.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Richard Stevenson, member of Eye On Sacramento and Katy Grimes, Journalist.  Both Plaintiffs have made formal requests to access to emails the City intends on destroying on July 8 and are suing the City under the CPRA to enforce their rights to gain access to these records.

Plaintiffs are asking Judge Chang to issue a TRO preventing the City from destroying the emails Plaintiffs want to access because, if the City destroys these emails, the lawsuit will be rendered moot and Plaintiffs’ – and the public’s – constitutional right to access these emails will be irrevocably injured.

“My clients understand the City’s desire to manage the City’s email archive,” said Paul Nicholas Boylan, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the CPRA enforcement lawsuit. “But the City’s interest can’t violate the public’s fundamental right to access public records. The City’s plan to destroy these emails after my clients have asked to see them is like a librarian burning down an entire library because a member of the public has asked to check out  and read one book,” Boylan said. “It is unthinkable that this might actually happen.”

As noted in news reports of an ongoing trial in Sacramento Superior Court, public officials have deleted records even after legal notifications to preserve those same records.  Eye On Sacramento supports Richard Stevenson and Katy Grimes in their lawsuit to enforce the California Public Records Act and their application for a restraining order to prevent the City of Sacramento from destroying public records.

“Eye On Sacramento is focused on transparency and citizen access to all mechanisms of government.  Deletion of public records is contrary to the principles of Open Government and the public’s right to know.” Erik Smitt, Policy Director.

Open Government … transparent, responsive, accountable!

 

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