Open Government Concept Appears Lacking at Office of Court Construction and Management

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Senior Manager of Planning Directs Another Employee to Ignore Request for Information –

The Woodland Record is an alternative on-line newspaper in Woodland and in many ways is the Vanguard’s counterpart up in Woodland, looking into many of the same sorts of issues involving local government.  They have been looking into the Yolo County’s property bordered by Court, Third, North, and Fourth Streets in Woodland.

In an email to Kelly Quinn, a Senior Manager of Planning for the Office of Court Construction and Management, Dino Gay from the Woodland Journal asked the following on March 17, 2009:

“I am doing a follow-up story and need the following information:

Can you tell me what conditions the AOC did not meet in regards to Yolo County Resolution No. 06-144 (in the Feasibility Study on your Web site) and Yolo County’s property bordered by Court, Third, North and Fourth Streets. Yolo County has claimed the state has not met the conditions outlined in the resolution and therefore has taken that property off of those considered for siting.

Thanks… I know this might have slipped off the radar, but it is a crucial bit of information the Yolo County public needs to know.”

After several emails apparently went unanswered, he sent an email to Assistant Director, Office of Court Construction and. Management copying Kelly Quin.

“I’ve sent several emails requesting certain information about the New Woodland Courthouse. Can you please respond to the question below [above]? This would preclude the need for a Public Records Request.”

Kelly Quinn would then email Lee Willoughly copying the Woodland Record:

“Lee – do not respond to him. The Yolo Court no longer responds to him, a local blogger who mucks things up locally. I have been purposefully ignoring him.”

To which, Lee Willoughby replies, “ok.”

On Monday, Dino Gay followed up with a more formal request for information:

“For your information, and despite Kelly’s claim, below is a March 25 response from Jim Perry of the Yolo Courts. If you want to call my investigations “mucking up,” that’s fine with me. I am reporting on the New Woodland Courthouse project. There are some strange holes in the public process that need to be publicized as taxpayer money is at stake.”

Unfortunately, the Administrative Office of Courts is exempt from the California Public Records Act, but they generally comply for information such as this.

Frankly this is appalling.  Kelly Quinn is a public employee.  It would be one thing, and probably questionable to ignore the emails from an inquiring member of the public.  It is quite another thing to direct another employee, this one the Assistant Director, to not respond.  That is in my mind the height of arrogance.

One also has to wonder if the decision to copy the Woodland Record on the response was intentional or a blunder.

As one person I spoke to who deals with open government issues told me, it is quite possible that Kelly Quinn’s job description may not include answering questions from the media.  However, it also does not include telling other officials to ignore them.

It is very interesting that Dino Gay’s reasonable follow-up question regarding the issue of court development and planning would be treated in such a manner and dismissed as “muck things up.”

There is a general principle of open government that seems to be missing in the response from Kelly Quinn.  I would have asked her about it myself, but who knows what I would have been accused of.

The Vanguard has made some inquiries into this situation and will follow up if there is further news to report.  Attempts to ignore legitimate requests for information have now brought greater scrutiny to the situation, as it appears there might be something to hide.

The public deserves transparency and accountability in government whenever possible.  This is a blatant disregard for those principles, in fact, that really understates this situation.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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10 thoughts on “Open Government Concept Appears Lacking at Office of Court Construction and Management”

  1. Not Standing For It Anymore

    Why is the Administrative Office of Courts exempt from the CA Public Records Act? Is there some other way to get the information? If not, then you can see why Kelly Quinn acted w such arrogance. Essentially she is saying “Neener, neener, neener, you can’t get me!”. And she feels free in telling other employees “Neener, neener, neener, they can’t get you either!” The sad part is we the taxpayers are paying her salary…

    By the way, what is the gist of what Dino is trying to get at?

  2. hypocritical republican

    David,
    If you need any help at all in bringing this corruption into light, and alerting the Department of Justice about the overwhelming evidence of corruption on the part of Yolo County employees within the court system let me know. Thing have gotten out of control and it’s time to stop.
    Manh of these people in the court system are part of a web and network of corrupt republican officials who are hell bent on taking as much money as possible out of government coffers. Some are democrats, but at this point it seems like a free for all for everyone and anyone that can take advantage of low government controls and regulations. What’s worse is when government that’s part of the regulatory process is corrupt as well and takes money from institutions or does “favors” for friends, that’s when things get really bad. Everyone here from Jeff Hudson of the Davis enterprise to a court clerk or judge (kathy white – etc etc) is in on the scheme. Without these people being removed from their positions and having a true changing of the guard, the change that we voted for will never come to pass.

  3. Ryan Kelly

    Kathy White involved in a corrupt republican … or any kind of corruption??? Very unlikely.

    My guess is that “hypocritical republican” is someone upset by some court case or maybe the proposed jail in Madison.

  4. dino

    Not Standing and Ryan,

    The gist and purpose of my request is to find out why Yolo County took a city block in Woodland away from the New Woodland Courthouse planning. In a 2006 resolution, the county promised the 2.5 acre block it owns (Court, Third, North, Fourth) to the state (AOC) in order to facilitate the process of building the new courthouse. Beth Gabor, the public information officer who spoke on behalf of ALL supervisors because they ALL refused to comment individually, claims the state did not meet certain conditions of the resolution. Since the state has yet to begin the acquisition phase, there really are no conditions that could not have been met. So, my inquiry to Kelly Quinn in the OCCM (of the AOC) was to find out what conditions the state did not meet. Jim Perry, the executive officer of Yolo Courts, said he did not know of any. It is a complex issue that involves the City of Woodland (with a rogue parking structure plan that I call Xanadu), the state (that failed to budget money for a parking structure despite a statewide budget of $153 million) and the county (that owns a key piece of promised property but has taken it off the table). The city has now had to spend money and time trying to piece together downtown parcels for the state to buy. Complicating the issue is the parking situation… the city has exaggerated the needs of a parking structure it cannot afford to build and it has promised one to the state. That’s it in nutshell, but it is woven and thick. Go to woodlandrecord.com and search for courthouse… a bunch of stories will pop up.

  5. Not Standing For It Anymore

    Dino, why is the Administrative Office of Courts exempt from the CA Public Records Act? Is there any other way you can get the info you seek?

    Sounds like a complicated mess – which of course complicates efforts to find out the truth. Keep working at it!

  6. dino

    Not Standing,

    The AOC information that David wrote about did come from me, which came from a public records expert through a partner at the Woodland Record. I’m trying to find out, exactly, in what ways the AOC is exempt.

    At the AOC site it says this: “Although the California Public Records Act generally does not apply to the judicial branch, records maintained by the AOC will be made available for inspection by members of the public pursuant to the following procedures: Requests for inspection or copying of records should be specific and focused. Requests must be made in writing and should sufficiently describe the records so that AOC staff can readily identify, locate, and retrieve them. The AOC may decline to disclose any records that are exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act (see, e.g., Gov. Code, § 6254), applicable law, or AOC policy.”

    http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/pubaccess-guide.htm

    The policy statement refers to Gov. Code, §§ 6252(f) and 6261; Cal. Rules of Court, rule 10.802.

    http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cacodes/gov/6250-6270.html

    I haven’t checked on rule 10.802 or Article VI of the California Constitution (that 6261 refers to), but I have a sneaky suspicion that the information I already requested will be attainable. I have already asked Lee Willoughby for the information per the CPRA, but since he’s already agreed with Kelly Quinn to ignore me, I will probably have to use the submission form available at the AOC URL above.

    In summary… at first glance it appears the AOC does not have any special exemptions outside those outlined in the law. Exemptions include attorney/client privileges… so maybe the agency is thinking that most of their information is protected that way. I am as curious as you are about it.

  7. David M. Greenwald

    Dino:

    Under the CPRA, court and court bodies are exempt:

    CFAC has what I consider the best primer on the CPRA: click here ([url]http://www.cfac.org/CPRA.pdf[/url])

    Here’s the text:

    [quote]WHAT AGENCIES ARE GOVERNED BY THE ACT?

    .A State: All state agencies except legislative and judicial agencies.

    .1 Courts and court administrative bodies (such as the Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts) are not subject to the PRA.
    Access to court records is governed by constitutional and common law
    principles established by case law, by the California Rules of Court, and
    by separate statutes governing certain court records.

    .2 State legislative records not available under PRA. There is a separate
    statute that governs records of the Legislature (the Legislative Open
    Records Act).[/quote]

  8. dino

    Update: The AOC is reviewing my request and intends to send me what it can.

    David: As much as the primer looks like a pretty good outline, I question the CFA’s statement “Courts and court administrative bodies (such as the Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts) ARE NOT subject to the PRA” versus the AOC’s statement, “Although the California Public Records Act GENERALLY DOES NOT apply to the judicial branch1,

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