MENDOCINO Co., 3/19/23 — Last week was “Sunshine Week,” when government transparency organizations, freedom of press advocates, and news outlets around the country highlight the importance of public transparency and access to government records — and this year, Mendocino County made the list of top villains in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Foilies Awards” for our new local public records fee ordinance.
Since it was first proposed last June, we’ve advocated at multiple public meetings for Mendocino County to overturn this outrageous ordinance, which requires residents and news outlets to pay exorbitant fees, in advance, for access to records that should be free through a public records request. As part of this effort, we put together a letter from media outlets across the region along with state and national free speech advocacy groups, asking the supervisors to reconsider this unlawful ordinance.
Despite almost universal opposition to the ordinance in public comments — and a letter from the First Amendment Coalition outlining the ways in which it violates state law— the board has refused to change course. In early February, they had the opportunity to act, and we commend Supervisor John Haschak for speaking out, but the rest of the board declined to follow suit.
Since the ordinance passed, I personally have had responses to my requests with estimated fees for amounts including $66,660, $28,200, and $16,856.22 — the first two for a single records request related to current supervisors discussions on cannabis regulations and CAMP raids. As a small locally owned outlet, we don’t have the budget for these kinds of fees. However, we believe access to public records is essential to our work as local journalists who hold government officials accountable, and that more importantly, it’s the right of every resident to have legally obtained information about their elected officials. So we plan to keep filing requests, and speaking out against this ordinance.
Please read our most recent story on the county’s ordinance here. We hope you support us in this fight, and we’ll keep you updated on this issue in the future. Get in touch at [email protected] if you’d like to get involved. Comments can also be sent to the Board of Supervisors at [email protected].
As always, thanks for reading,
Kate Maxwell and The Mendocino Voice team
- Sunshine Week: national award names Mendocino County one of America’s “worst in government transparency”
- Mendocino County to charge fees for public records
- Free press advocates caution Mendocino County on new public records fee ordinance
- Open letter to Mendocino County supervisors: new public records fees will cost more than they save
- Our articles using public records: too many to list here