T■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
he City of Hemet has been stonewalling The Valley Chronicle and its readers for months on legitimate requests for information that normally would be a matter of public record.
Public records are broadly defined to include “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of a public’s business prepared, owned, used or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristic. Citing with approval an even broader definition of public records adopted by the California Attorney General, another court has stated:
“This definition is intended to cover every conceivable kind of record that is involved in the governmental process and will pertain to any new form of record-keeping instrument as it is developed. Only purely personal information unrelated to ‘the conduct of the public’s business’ could be considered exempt from this definition, i.e., the shopping list phoned from home, the letter to a public officer from a friend which is totally void of reference to governmental activities.” Recently the law was amended to include personal electronic devices such as government employees’ personal cell phones and email accounts.
It’s common for newspapers to ask for certain types of documents from government entities, such as police reports, accident reports, insurance policies, budgetary information, political donation forms, and crime statistics. Most agencies willingly comply; however “the City of Hemet (CoH) has a habit of not complying, delaying its reply or just ignoring the request,” said Mary Ann Morris, editor of The Valley Chronicle. “I’ve never had so much trouble getting information from an agency as I do with the City of Hemet. I ask for a public record and routinely get denied for a litany of reasons. I can ask another agency for the same or similar record and have no problems getting it – sometimes within a few days.”
The Valley Chronicle works diligently to provide the public with important information that affects the taxpayers and residents of the City of Hemet. The Valley Chronicle recently filed suit against the CoH for failure to release public records.
“The last thing we want to do is run up legal fees, but the city is exploiting the taxpayers who have trusted them and bought into this hook, line and sinker,” said Eric Buskirk, publisher of The Valley Chronicle.
The CoH’s history of obfuscating such requests spans more than a year. Sometimes the CoH will comply, as they did in the case when we requested the billing for the civil suit against Deputy Police Chief Rob Webb filed by the family of Anthony Norman.
We requested – and received – redacted billing records from February 2015 through December 2016 from Burke, Williams and Sorensen, the Los Angeles-area law firm where Hemet City Attorney Eric Vail is a partner. However, when we again asked for the same information from 2017, we were denied because these records were now, somehow, considered attorney client work product.
The following table lists the records The Valley Chronicle believes are public and vital to the public interest regarding two items – the Ai “Love” Spa and the lawsuit of Norman v Webb – and the city’s response to the requests. Please note that all requests for information contain language stating that the responding office can simply redact sensitive information rather than deny access to the records.