The City of Fresno, under the mismanagement of Mayor Ashley Swearengin, continues to violate the state’s public records law.
Last week, the City of Fresno once again denied an appeal to a public records request for information about Mayor Swearengin’s involvement in the Fresno State presidential search committee. A Fresno Bee editorial described the search process as “a shameful poke in the eye to all who believe in transparent government.” For the complete backstory, check out this previous post.
On July 5, the Fresno City Attorney’s office sent this response to my rebuttal of an earlier denial of a public records request. Once again, the city attorney’s response shows either a poor understanding of the law, or a purposeful effort to hide information from the public.
Similar to Swearengin’s doublespeak about government transparency, the city argues out of both sides of its mouth. In its denial of the public records request, the city claims, “The scope of the requests is vague and overbroad.” But, in the very next sentence, it also claims, “E-mail searches for documents involving third parties produced either no documents, irrelevant documents and/or protected documents.”
How exactly can a request be both “overbroad” and yet produce no documents? Moreover, “irrelevant documents” isn’t a valid criteria for withholding public records. The public, not the agency under investigation, gets to determine what’s relevant.
The May 2013 public records request was narrow in scope, requesting documents and correspondence by four city employees: Georgeanne White, the mayor’s chief of staff; Kelli Furtado, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff; Cheryl Burns, the mayor’s special assistant; and Mark Scott, the city manager. The dates were limited to the period of December 1, 2012 to May 6, 2013. The terms were limited to materials that made reference to: Fresno State search committee; Pete Mehas; Lynne Williams; CSU Chancellor; Tim White; advisory committee; president; Fresno State; Fresno Bee; Michael Krikorian; Jim Boren; and/or editorial.
For two months, I’ve been attempting to obtain documents to determine whether Mayor Swearengin broke the law by illegally sharing confidential information from a closed meeting.
We’re no closer to answering that question. But, one thing has become clear: Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, the one-time rising Republican star, has put government bureaucrats ahead of government transparency.