Civil Grand Jury Holding City of Santa Clara Accountable for Open Records Law

At the end of May we published an article on California Civil Grand Juries.  This week we take a look at an actual grand jury report produced by a civil grand jury in Santa Clara County.

Grand Jury reports often contain explosive allegations. At the outset, a Grand Jury report summarizes its investigation and documents the twists and turns the investigation took.  Grand Jury reports then outline the conclusions reached and present a series of findings and recommendations to which the Grand Jury can require formal responses.

 In the case of Santa Clara County, the Grand Jury initially launched an investigation to review the contracting procedures of the City of Santa Clara and the Santa Clara Stadium Authority, however, according to its report, “After encountering numerous obstacles, including inadequate responses from the City to document requests and a lack of cooperation in scheduling Grand Jury interviews, the Grand Jury turned the focus of its investigation to the City’s handling of requests under the CPRA.”  (City of Santa Clara: Public Records Access, The Paper Chase)

 The Santa Clara County report immediately characterizes the Grand Jury’s feelings about how its California Public Records Act (CPRA) requests were handled:

 “Noncompliance with the CPRA included non-responsive replies to the requests, invalid excuses for extensions of time, and incomplete document production. The City acknowledged its recordkeeping system was disorganized and in need of improvement, but the City did not have an interim solution. However, the City’s progress towards implementation of an existing recordkeeping software has been without a sense of urgency. The Grand Jury finds the City’s noncompliance with CPRA unacceptable and recommends the City implement measures immediately that will ensure compliance with CPRA requests.”  (City of Santa Clara: Public Records Access, The Paper Chase)

The report also contains helpful background on the CPRA and an agency’s duty to respond to requests, as well as a long discussion on what was requested and how each request was handled.  Ultimately, the report draws a series of conclusions (spoiler alert: none were very favorable or laudatory toward the City of Santa Clara) and makes recommendations for how the city could improve its responsiveness.

 In this instance, the Grand Jury also exercises its right under California law to request that the City of Santa Clara respond to the report’s findings and recommendations.

 It isn’t often that two of our favorite topics (i.e., the contents of public records and open records law) are intertwined in a newsworthy event, but this report from the Santa Clara County Grand Jury certainly did just that.  The report is worth a read in full and also in the media.