Instead of being a state-reimbursable mandate, many provisions of the California Public Records Act will become “best practices” and therefore not a requirement of the state. By so doing, the state can free itself of its requirement to reimburse for expenses, but open government advocates worry that removing the teeth from the CPRA will leave smaller, weaker local governments prone to restricting transparency.
It is important to note that the Brown Act has essentially been suspended for years, yet local governments have continued to comply with its requirements that public meetings be open. Public records requests are still being fulfilled, and the public’s business remains accessible to the public. In many places, the continued commitment to transparency is a result of a culture of compliance fostered by the decades of the Brown Act. Governments were further spurred to action by the recent failures in Bell.
But fears remain that two classes of governments will emerge in a “best practices” world. The first would be the larger cities with larger budgets and an active citizenry. They would continue to bear the standard of transparency. The other class would look like Bell from 2009, when leaders fall away from their obligations, neglect the public, and corruption would be allowed to grow.
In either case, open government advocates are calling on Governor Brown to veto AB 76.