Costa Mesa City Hall is refusing to disclose its event contract with a company co-owned by Orange County Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh, apparently citing an exemption under the Public Records Act that's typically used for law enforcement investigations.
The company, KB Event Management, oversaw the food section of the city’s 60th anniversary event in June and hadn't provided a final financial accounting to the city as of Aug. 20.
Two city employees were placed on administrative leave as the city investigated the handling of the event's finances, though city officials have so far declined to clarify which aspects of the event are being probed.
Voice of OC’s Aug. 20 request asked for KB’s contract with the city for the event as well as any invoices and payments related to that contract.
But Section 6254(f), which is part of the Public Records Act, concerns law enforcement investigatory files, certain California Emergency Management Agency records and “investigatory or security files compiled by any other state or local agency for correctional, law enforcement, or licensing purposes.”
Open-government expert Terry Francke said the documents should be made public. The city's response, he said, suggests law enforcement involvement in an investigation of the company.
"Since the response does not cite any law making these records confidential or state any overriding public interest in keeping them secret, the only other explanation is that the contractor is the target of a criminal investigation,” said Francke, who is general counsel at Californians Aware and Voice of OC’s open-government consultant.
“But even that would be no legal justification for keeping these documents from the public," he said.
Asked Friday night about the records response from City Clerk Brenda Green, Costa Mesa police spokesman Lt. Greg Scott declined to confirm or deny whether there is a criminal investigation into the company.
“I can’t elaborate at all regarding it. The information that you received from the city clerk’s office is the official current status regarding that case,” said Scott.
Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer said he wasn’t aware of any criminal probe into the company. Other top city officials, including Green, Assistant CEO Rick Francis and spokesman Bill Lobdell, didn’t return messages Friday afternoon.
Baugh also hasn't yet returned a message left Friday evening, though he recently said he had no knowledge of his company being a focus of a city inquiry.
“Documents are being withheld from production at this time pursuant to California Government Code 9254(f) [sic], California Government Code 6254(k) and Government Code 6255,” the city clerk wrote in a response emailed at 4:10 p.m. Friday.
Section 6254(k) concerns records prohibited from disclosure under state or federal law.
Section 6255 states that when withholding records, agencies must demonstrate that "the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record."
Two city employees involved in the anniversary event’s planning have been placed on leave pending an internal investigation into allegations about “fiscal policies and procedures that may not have been followed” surrounding the event, city Assistant CEO Rick Francis recently told the Daily Pilot.
Voice of OC reported Aug. 21 that seven weeks after the event, KB still hadn’t provided a final accounting of how much revenue was raised and what its costs were.
The firm's managing partner attributed the delay to late bills from its vendors.
KB then turned in its final breakdown on Aug. 23, which showed $125,512 in income and a modest profit of $474, according to The Orange County Register columnist Barbara Venezia.
Activist Reggie Mundekis says she filed a records request on July 23 but also hasn’t received any of the event’s food, beverage or entertainment contracts.
Instead, the city has so far provided the portable toilet, banner, media services, security, fencing and barrier contracts, she said.
“What is the harm in releasing copies of the documents in question? How does that impede any investigation?” asked Mundekis.