Update on the Status of County PRAs

Update on the status of county PRAs: On May 14, we called on San Diego County to end its policy of not fulfilling certain requests for public records during the coronavirus pandemic, saying the outbreak should not be an excuse to sacrifice transparency on matters of vital public interest. The policy remains in effect, though the county informs us that its 60-day limit on retaining emails has been suspended during this time. We asked each supervisor to state their positions, and here’s what they told us.

Greg Cox: “From the very beginning of this crisis, the County has been very responsive to the media. We have held daily media briefings and our communications staff has continued to respond to questions before and after those briefings. I, along with my fellow Supervisors, have fulfilled numerous media requests and I can tell you my office has even contacted media outlets to reschedule interviews when we initially couldn’t do them. I understand the media has a job to do. But so does the County. And right now, our priority is to manage the health and economic impacts of this pandemic. We have responded to most of the public records requests, but we have said that there are some requests that may not be initially fulfilled. That doesn’t mean they won’t ever be fulfilled. It just means that right now we are in the middle of this crisis and we have to prioritize our response. Throughout this crisis we have asked for the patience and understanding of all residents with a situation we have not experienced in our lifetimes. I don’t think the media should be exempted from that request and we ask for your patience and understanding too as we try to deal with your requests.”

Dianne Jacob: “I’ve always believed that transparency is a core part of good governance, and I’m aware that county staff have been able to fulfill over 500 public records requests in recent weeks. About 35 to 40 requests have been delayed because they are COVID related. Despite the health crisis being the top priority, even some of those are being fulfilled if county staff has the information available. It is my expectation that county staff will continue to do all it can to fulfill the outstanding requests when the current crisis allows.”

Kristin Gaspar: “I’ve always believed that transparency is a core part of good governance, and I’m aware that county staff have been able to fulfill over 500 public records requests in recent weeks. About 35 to 40 requests have been delayed because they are COVID related. Despite the health crisis being the top priority, even some of those are being fulfilled if county staff has the information available. It is my expectation that county staff will continue to do all it can to fulfill the outstanding requests when the current crisis allows.”

Note: Jacob and Gaspar shared the same statement.

Nathan Fletcher (whose staff referred us to his comments to KPBS): “I think we’re many months into this now and so I would be supportive of a change in posture in ensuring that we’re fully compliant with the records requests.”

Jim Desmond: “I am supportive of transparency, especially being an elected official. We’ve been told that County staff has fulfilled over 500 PRA requests since March 1. I trust County staff will continue to fulfill them when the crisis subsides.”

San Diego County Should Resume Processing CPRA Requests During COVID-19

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.

SD-SPJ Extending Annual Contest Deadline

The coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented demands on our community in order to mitigate the impacts of the respiratory disease and flatten the curve. It’s also created incredible demands on San Diego journalists working around-the-clock to deliver critical information to residents. The pandemic demands some flexibility during this year’s San Diego Society of Professional Journalists contest, which is why we are extending the deadline by two weeks for journalists to submit their best work from last year.

Our early-bird deadline has now been extended to 9 p.m. on Monday, April 20. Early-bird entries will get $5 off their entry fees in every category but our top and special awards.

The final deadline to submit entries is 9 p.m. on Monday, April 27.

We are also accepting applications for six $1,000 scholarships through Monday, April 27. One of those scholarships — the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation’s Agnes Diggs Road to College Scholarship — is open to San Diego County or Riverside County students from underserved communities. The others are open to all San Diego County students.

For more contest information, visit our contest page.

Watch out for the announcement of our winners in mid-to-late-May or early June.

UPDATE: SD-SPJ Postponing March 18 Sunshine Week Event

Dear SPJ Members and Local Journalists,

Out of an abundance of caution, the San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has decided to cancel our Sunshine Awards ceremony March 18 due to coronavirus concerns. Our goal is to reschedule the event as soon as it’s safe to do so.

We appreciate your support and wish you all the best of luck in your work in the coming months. Now is a time when the public relies on its journalists for the best, up to date information, and San Diegans are fortunate to have a strong, dependable group of local journalists covering the issues that matter most.

You have our support.

Sincerely,
SD-SPJ Board