Santana: News Is What They Don’t Want You to Know

What they don’t want you to know is News.

Everything else is PR.

That’s why today we are filing suit against the County of Orange for the right to see email communications between county Supervisor Todd Spitzer and Jean Pasco, the county’s main public information officer, regarding a controversial incident involving Spitzer performing a citizen’s arrest and handcuffing a man while armed with a concealed handgun at a Wahoo’s Fish Tacos restaurant in Foothill Ranch last year.

Beyond the bizarre nature of what happened that day inside the Wahoo’s, Spitzer’s actions during the incident and in its aftermath are newsworthy because they speak to his temperament, judgement, and overall fitness for public office.

Keep in mind this is a man who wants to be DA.

That is why Spitzer’s email communications with Pasco are important. He had written what has been described as an “Op-Ed” regarding the incident at Wahoo’s that he wanted Pasco to blast out to the news media. But when Pasco read what Spitzer had wrote, she apparently had major issues with it and convinced Spitzer to keep it secret.

What was Pasco afraid of? Did Spitzer in his “Op-Ed” reveal behaviors or thoughts during and after the incident that would make him look even more unstable than what already had been made public? Were there other aspects to the incident and how the Sheriff’s Department handled it that Pasco wanted to keep under wraps?

We believe the public has a right to know the answers to these questions as well as other information that the email chain might bring to light regarding the thoughts and actions of one of the county’s most powerful public servants.

County officials vehemently disagree, arguing such communications should be kept secret because they are exempted from California’s Public Records Act as part of the deliberative process.

Our attorneys – with the respected First Amendment advocacy group, CalAware – point out that deliberative process under state law only applies very narrowly to decisions about pending legislative or executive policies — not on whether or not to send an Op-ed off.

Spitzer challenged me to sue the county telling me if those kinds of private discussions between county staff and politicians aren’t kept secret, government as we know it would “grind to a halt.”

Yet if local government is to operate in secret, maybe it should grind to a halt.

And be reorganized.

It’s fitting that we’re filing our suit during Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.

Now, we are a small non-profit with a tiny budget, and I understand that committing ourselves to a lawsuit with a $6 billion county government could be a lengthy and costly battle.

Yet if we are indeed to be governed by unaccountable government, we should confront that.

We believe it’s our duty as a newsroom to inform you of these realities.

This is why we hard-wired defending First Amendment rights as part of our mission as a nonprofit investigative news agency focused on local civics.

Our colleagues at the Orange County Register declined to challenge the county’s decision to deny access to Spitzer’s Op-ed and the official discussions that ultimately killed its publication.

It’s probably a fiscally sound decision to let it go.

But allowing these kinds of practices to stand unchallenged is corrosive to our First Amendment rights.

So we’re going to spend the money.

And if you believe in what we are doing, please help by clicking on our donation page and make a contribution. Any amount will be greatly appreciated.

Our hope is that together as a community we can stand up to powerful interests in favor of transparency as opposed to smoke-filled rooms.

The alternative is a news diet choc full of government PR.

Correction: A previous version of this article did not include county spokeswoman Jean Pasco’s first name.