The Union’s decision to file a complaint this week against the Nevada Joint Union High School District, seeking the release of documents pertaining to the March termination of Superintendent Marianne Cartan’s contract, was one the newspaper would rather not have had to make but an important step to take, all the same.
The Union has a responsibility to inform the public on the decisions made by our elected officials and the rationale for why they are made. When a board of elected representatives decides to change the leadership of a tax-funded entity, the taxpayers deserve to know why. Without comment from elected officials on their decision — in this case determined by a 3-2 margin — the documents used in their deliberations are essential in gaining insight into why board members voted the way they did.
This is not a matter of whether the board’s decision was wrong or even the content of the documents. This is about the public having a right to peek behind the curtain, as it were, and The Union’s duty to provide that forum.
“In enacting this chapter, the Legislature, mindful of the right of individuals to privacy, finds and declares that access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state,” so reads the introduction to the California Public Records Act (California Government Code sections 6250-6276.48).
In 2004, after being unanimously passed in the state Assembly and Senate, 83.4 percent of California voters approved Proposition 59 — an amendment to the Constitution of California — to implement freedom of information provisions (see accompanying box).
The high school district has declined to disclose documents pertaining to its trustees’ decision to terminate the superintendent’s contract, citing the issue as a personnel matter that its attorneys believe to be exempt from disclosure.
The Union, obviously, disagrees. The 2004 voter’s guide explained that the intent of Proposition 59 was to allow the public to see and understand the deliberative process through which decisions are made. “Most tellingly,” The Union’s attorney Steve Zansberg wrote in the complaint, “the voter guide offered several concrete, real-world examples of the types of public records the proposed constitutional amendment was intended to make publicly available. Among them were records whose contents answer the question: ‘Why was the superintendent of the school district fired?’”
The Union now seeks a ruling from the court to settle the issue.
The Union’s role as the “newspaper of record,” which it has served for the past 149 years in western Nevada County, requires that it defend the public’s right to know in matters of local government, whether the governing body be a school board, a fire district, a city council or any other tax-supported public entity. To that end, we hold the First Amendment and the access to public records near and dear in meeting that responsibility to the community we serve.
This article reflects the views of The Union editorial board, which is comprised of The Union staff members and informed members of the public.