County officials release names of others for clerk-recorder job
Senior Staff Writer
Nevada County officials relented late Friday and released the names of the candidates who applied for the clerk-recorder’s job along with Gregory Diaz, who was appointed to the post Tuesday.
The Union had filed a public-records request seeking the information, but the county initially refused to provide it.
The clerk-recorder’s job is an elected position. In a typical year, all the candidates’ names appear on a voting ballot. This time, Diaz was appointed to the post, because his predecessor, Kathleen Smith, left in mid-term.
“Legally, we were advised we did not have to do it, but after reflection, we thought it would be in the best interest for Mr. Diaz’s tenure,” County Executive Officer Rick Haffey said.
The candidates were Matthew Johnson, Susan Martin, Linda Senner and Manson Turner, Haffey said. A fifth candidate did not show up for interviews.
County officials’ refusal to provide the information was a violation of the California Constitution, a media lawyer said earlier in the day. The story of the county’s refusal to provide the candidate information was posted on The Union’s Web site about noon.
“They’re simply ignoring their constitutional duty,” said Jim Ewert, counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
The county’s refusal to name the panelists who chose Diaz as the top prospect was “asinine,” Ewert added.
Officials still are refusing to name the panelists, citing a need to protect their privacy.
Diaz was appointed by the Board of Supervisors two months after Smith resigned. Smith left shortly after The Union disclosed she also was working as the city clerk for the town of Rio Vista.
Smith defeated Diaz in a relatively close election in June 2006.
Supervisor Sue Horne said she could see both sides of the issue. Horne wanted to respect the privacy of the other candidates and not jeopardize their jobs.
“I also understand this is a public position being paid for by taxpayer dollars,” Horne said. “I understand the public wants to know it’s a fair process.”
Deputy County Counsel Michael Jamison cited two legal cases for initially refusing the Freedom of Information Act request from the newspaper. Both of them involved a “deliberative process privilege” to withold the names of candidates who were seeking appointment to an elected office.
But Ewert said the cases ” Times Mirror Co. versus Superior Court and Wilson versus Superior Court ” did not apply.
“They are required to interpret the constitution for disclosure strongly and for nondisclosure loosely under the state constitution,” Ewert added. The language was added to the state’s public records act by Prop. 59 in 2004, he said.
Prior to the county’s disclosure, Jamison said he stood by his legal analysis. He said his opinion relied on state public records act section 6255 “that applies to all public agencies in California” and says “nondisclosure is permitted if it is demonstrated it is in the best interest of the public.”
Jamison said the county would also not disclose the names of hiring panelists because people might not want to serve if their names were made public.
“Experience shows that when disclosure of their identity is requested, it is not merely the identity of panelists which is sought,” Jamison said. “While undoubtedly of some public interest by itself, panelists’ identity is used by media to contact them to inquire about the screening process.”
The media lawyers disagreed. “Who do they think they are picking, the head of the CIA?” asked Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition in San Rafael. “How do you know he wasn’t picked by someone he received campaign contributions from?”
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