PUBLIC COMMENT • 2017
Voice of OC chronicled an ongoing crackdown by the Orange County Supervisors on public comments with the supervisors considering changing the policy after a Voice of OC reporter was threatened with arrest while reporting on a public meeting.
The story chronicled:
- The board chairwoman limiting public comments to one minute (the Ralph M. Brown Act says public comment limits must be “reasonable.”
- How some executives were allowed to go over the time limit while most homeless advocates and county workers were held to one minute.
- The ACLU’s challenge of the speech limits.
- How Mohammed Aly was forced out of a supervisor meeting by sheriff’s security officers after he went over his time limit and identified the supervisors each by name during his comments. Reporter Nick Gerda continued reporting even as he was threatened with arrest for simply filming the removal of Aly.
“The public has a right to know” what happens during a recess, said Terry Francke, general counsel to the open government nonprofit Californians Aware and Voice of OC consultant. “Because they (the supervisors) could be violating the Brown Act” by meeting secretly in violation of California’s 64-year-old open meeting law.
CRIME RECORDS • 2013
We filed a lawsuit, under the California Public Records Act, against the county after officials refused to release documents that shed light on how a top OC Public Works executive was allowed to resign quietly just before the District Attorney charged him with multiple felony sex crimes against subordinates. Our suit ultimately forced officials to release some of the documents and secured a $120,000 judgment against the county for attorney fees.
GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY • 2012
Our consistent watchdog coverage helped usher in a new sunshine ordinance that, among other things, requires city officials to make their calendars public; requires public hearings on the city’s ongoing strategic plan; and gives residents real-time input on city budgets.
OPEN MEETINGS • 2011
When Voice of OC first launched, Santa Ana City Council members violated California’s open meetings law every time they held a regular council meeting by opening the meeting in private. Our reporting led to the city ending that practice in 2011.
DELETED EMAILS • 2010
We revealed wide inconsistencies among Orange County cities and their handling of emails. Some cities were destroying emails after 30 days, some after 90. Some had no policy at all. The Public Records Act calls for all California government agencies to keep emails related to city business for a minimum of two years. After Voice’s story exposed the practices, a legal threat from the First Amendment advocacy group Californians Aware was enough to convince the city of Irvine that its email policy – to destroy all city emails after 30 days – needed to be revamped.
WESTMINSTER RECORDS • 2017
Voice of OC filed and won a lawsuit against the city of Westminster, saying it must make public a legal claim against the city filed by former Police Chief Kevin Baker. The city fought disclosure of the 14-page complaint for more than a year.
“Citizens clearly have the right to know whether their cities have incurred any legal obligations or violations. A claim from the police chief is among the highest order of documents that the public needs to see.”
– Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana, Jr.
In the records, Baker claims that corruption runs rampant in the city of Westminster, alleging that council members operate like a “gang” and try to use the police to pressure local business and punish political enemies.
GOVERNMENT RECORDS • 2014
Voice of OC won a law suit against the County of Orange over records related to the investigation into former county Public Works executive Carlos Bustamante, who was convicted of committing multiple sex crimes against women who worked for him. The hundreds of pages of documents detailed aspects of the “culture of fear” that many workers reported inside county government.
EMAILS • 2017
Superior Court Judge Walter P. Schwarz ordered the county to give Voice of OC emails between Supervisor Todd Spitzer and a former county information officer about Spitzer’s handcuffing an evangelist at a Wahoo’s Fish Taco restaurant.
The county tried to keep the emails and a draft opinion piece about the citizen’s arrest written by Spitzer confidential, claiming the “deliberative process” privilege exempted the documents from the California Public Records Act. The emails are between Spitzer, who said after the incident he felt threatened but evangelist, and former county Public Information Manager Jean Pasco. The draft opinion piece was Spitzer’s insights into what happened.
Spitzer handcuffed the evangelist, Jeovany Castellano, at Wahoo’s in Foothill Ranch on April 3, 2015. Voice of OC sought the emails and editorial through a public records request but was forced to file the law suit when the county refused to make them public. The Board of Supervisors then voted to fight the lawsuit.
County supervisors voted unanimously to pay Voice of OC $121,396 in legal fees after losing the lawsuit. In the ruling, the county was allowed to keep separate a set of emails related to a county contract with the preacher’s employer. Under California law, when a court rules that a local government improperly withheld public records, the government agency must pay the legal bills of the person or group that sued.
“I find it sadly ironic that Supervisor Spitzer lauds his commitment to government transparency in his statement yet fought viciously against the release of these records for more than a year. In addition to threatening reporters and the California Shield Law, Spitzer has wasted countless hours for County Counsel, our newsroom, as well as taxpayer money to keep these records shielded.”
– Norberto Santana, Jr., Voice of OC publisher