MENDOCINO Co., 4/27/23 — Today, The First Amendment Coalition and ACLU of Northern California, joined by The Mendocino Voice, Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Willits Environmental Center, sent a letter to the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors urging them to overturn the public records fees ordinance passed last summer, and called on the board to rescind the ordinance. The letter calls for the supervisors to take action at the next meeting on May 9, or face a lawsuit from these groups.
The Mendocino Voice, joined by others, have been pushing back against this unlawful ordinance since it was first proposed last June, including speaking at multiple supervisors meetings, and sending a letter cosigned by media outlets and transparency organizations across the region. So far, the county continues to request thousands of dollars in fees and the unlawful ordinance remains in place.
Here’s the letter sent to the Board of Supervisors today, and our previous coverage of the county’s public records fee ordinance can be found below. We’ll have more on this issue in the coming days; for now, we encourage our readers to read the following announcement:
The First Amendment Coalition and ACLU of Northern California today called on Mendocino County to repeal an unlawful ordinance that imposes high fees on public records requesters.
In a letter sent today, lawyers for FAC and the ACLU told members of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors that their organizations, joined by The Mendocino Voice, Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Willits Environmental Center, plan to file a lawsuit if the county does not repeal the ordinance at its next meeting, set for May 9.
The organizations’ call for repeal comes after a member of the board of supervisors, Ted Williams, announced during a recent public meeting he would bring a motion to repeal Ordinance No. 4507, which has faced public opposition.
Passed in July 2022, Ordinance No. 4507 directs the county to charge between $20 to $150 per hour of staff time spent locating or reviewing public records requested under the California Public Records Act, or CPRA. But California’s open-government laws do not allow agencies to demand payment to cover the cost of staff time to respond to requests. Such fees are a threat to an open and accountable government.
FAC, press groups, and other community members have condemned the policy. In February, FAC noted the law “erects fee barriers that deprive the public of their rights under the California Public Records Act and California Constitution to access information,” and previously had warned the county the fee ordinance was unlawful. And despite a policy that would waive some fees for certain members of the media, a broad coalition of news organizations issued an open letter opposing the fees, writing the “new fees violate state law and present an unreasonably high burden on members of the public, who play a crucial oversight role in Mendocino County.”
Williams did not disclose why he was making the motion during Tuesday’s meeting. But as today’s letter states, the organizations were on the eve of filing a lawsuit to challenge the ordinance, and the supervisors were likely aware of this.
“Time is of the essence because every day that this Ordinance is still in effect, members of the public are subject to a financial barrier that deprives them of the transparency rights guaranteed by the CPRA and California Constitution,” the letter says. In addition to seeking repeal of the ordinance, the lawyers demanded the county withdraw any assessments for fees under the ordinance and process immediately any pending public record requests without charging fees for locating, reviewing, or redacting the requested records.Press release from the First Amendment Coalition
- Letter from the publisher: Mendocino County wins “worst” for government transparency (opinion)
- 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
Wow, it’s amazing how quickly Ted the Narcissist changed his tone once this horrific policy made national headlines. He kept saying no one was expressing concern or outrage. He said people were more concerned with potholes.
EFF and ACLU comes to town and he’s ready to repeal. I guess it’s hard to keep up the tech, savant, genius vibe when your name is about to be on the wrong side of an ACLU lawsuit.