The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is deeply disappointed with San Diego County’s decision to not respond to some public records requests during the coronavirus pandemic, as outlined in a formal letter being sent to requestors by County Chief Counsel Thomas Montgomery. Several San Diego news outlets have reported on the policy.
We understand public health is a top priority and that responding to records requests might take longer during the pandemic. But government transparency is crucial during crises such as this one, and a public health emergency shouldn’t be a reason to ignore records requests indefinitely. Other local governments, including the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, Oceanside, Escondido, Carlsbad and El Cajon, as well as other California counties, are facing similar challenges but are still complying with the California Public Records Act.
The SD-SPJ Board calls on the County of San Diego to immediately resume processing all valid records requests — and it should suspend its 60-day email retention policy to ensure important records are not deleted.
A county spokesman said each member of the Board of Supervisors was informed of the change, though the board did not approve it. We hope each supervisor will clarify their position on this decision and agree that the pandemic is no reason to sacrifice transparency.