It is time to adopt the Government Transparency Act

September 12, 2023

Stew Jenkins


The Government Transparency Act will end huge loopholes that let districts, cities, counties, and state agencies delete or secrete government records concerning how they are conducting the public’s business. If adopted by the voters on Nov. 5, 2024, the Government Transparency Act will amend the California Public Records Act and the Legislative Open Records Act to open wide government to public scrutiny.

If the Government Transparency Act is adopted, internal investigation records concerning legislators charged with “accepting bribes; … conflict of interest; abusing his or her power; fraud; sexual misconduct; engaging in … illegal or unethical behavior” will for the first time be accessible by the public and the press. Watch to see if legislators campaign against this initiative.

If the Government Transparency Act is adopted, for the first time, the papers generated by or for Assembly members and members of the State Senate will belong to the public, not the legislator, and be preserved for public disclosure.

If the Government Transparency Act is adopted it will end the practice  of county, city, district and state agencies rapid deletion of records – requiring that they be preserved for public access for a minimum of five years.

Just as importantly, when citizens or the press ask for copies of local and state agency records, cities, counties, districts and the state will no longer be able to overcharge for the records of the public’s business. Fees governments charge will be limited to 10 cents per page produced.

Without the Government Transparency Act, some local governments just delay, and delay, and try to wait out producing records of the people’s business, sometimes for years, till the press or citizen watchdogs give up, or have to sue. Statutes of limitation on local agency misconduct can run out or witnesses identified in records die or move away before records are produced. But production of government records will be mandated within 30 days by the Government Transparency Act, and no delay for any reason will be allowed more than 90 days after a request for disclosure.

If the Government Transparency Act is adopted, for the first time regulatory agencies will have to render up records of how they decided to impose regulations and what the original intent of those regulations were. This can be a huge benefit to prevent unauthorized regulatory creep into private use of property and conduct of commerce.

Many public agencies simply assign attorneys to projects or actions, and then claim that documents related to those projects or actions cannot be disclosed because they are covered by the attorney-client privilege. Those attorneys are paid by the public and should be protecting the interests of the public, instead of acting as shills to hide from the public what the agency is doing. The Government Transparency Act ends this abuse of the attorney-client privilege by government agencies.

Cities, counties, and other public agencies that are serial offenders obstructing access to public records will find after the Government Transparency Act is adopted by the voters that they are subject to substantial fines, penalties and court intervention.

If the Government Transparency Act is adopted, for the first time private companies that have been delegated government duties and services will have the same duties to produce records about their internal communications and activities as the governmental agencies. So, for example, when a county or city contracts with a private company to supply water, operate a sewage plant, track and collect taxes from short-term rentals, or collect money from parking meters, or issue citations based on red-light cameras the public will have access to those contractor’s records just like they would if the city or county were directly running those operations.

On Sept. 9, my interview with Jerry Flanagan, Litigation Director for Consumer Watchdog about their Government Transparency Act Ballot Initiative was broadcast on my Saturday show, SLO COUNTY PUBLIC POLICY & THE LAW at FM 98.5.

Petitions for gathering signatures will soon be available at Consumer Watchdog.

Californians can bring sunlight to government actions and operations. Sunlight is the best defense against corruption and the best incentive for integrity in our elected and appointed officials.

I urge every voter in California to download at least one copy of the petition to get their friends and family to sign the petition to put the Government Transparency Act on the Nov. 5, 2024, ballot.

Stew Jenkins is a San Luis Obispo Lawyer, repeatedly appointed by the Superior Court as a Special Master.  His legal work has resulted in numerous California Election Statutes being declared unconstitutional. Mr. Jenkins has advised about, written and served as a proponent of ballot initiatives. He also provides Estate Planning and appears weekly on K-News, FM 98.5, as host of SLO COUNTY PUBLIC POLICY & THE LAW.


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Transparency will be clear enough when city hall is made out of glass.

Thank you Stew for the update.

The devil is always in the details. We always like transparency, but we should be wary that this doesn’t bind up the government in more red tape. There could be downstream effects, especially demanding contractors open up their business to the public (competitors) could have the consequences of fewer quality applicants. And full-transparency on all internal communications will likely result in more phone calls and handshake deals, to allow for flexibility and speedy decision making (something we all agree, the government should be more efficient). I also think that additional transparency, particularly if we want it to also be speedy and of high quality, will require more administrative staff to service public requests. Maybe worth it? Maybe not? All im saying is that there are trade-offs and important specifics.

Transparency may have a public benefit, if you are willing to log on and view government activities on your computer. The air waves (live radio) has been squelched and certainly local government does not desire a live broadcast on the radio, excepting for their low power radio channel for their staff to hear. You must always consider the cost in time and transparency for there to be a level playing field. Always remember that a government trajectory can be generational.

First we shouldn’t have to pass laws that require our government to be transparent and honest with the people but as in every power positions there are a lot of shady things going on

$.10 a page from someone that is paid by the hour? These jobs are paid for by us. The supplies are paid for by us, The chairs and lights, the carpet and vacations and medical insurance, paid for by us. Why do we have to pay out of our pockets for information? A few years ago someone got a job at the City of Slo without the job being posted and “We’ve always just done it that way” was the reply. Someone who wasn’t qualified except by marriage shouldn’t move to the head of the line.

And yes, awarding contracts needs extra scrutiny from the paper towels to the employee benefits. Why the county uses vendors from Orange County instead of local for the EXACT service is pretty interesting.

Where can we see who bids on the office curtains, medical insurance, vehicle tires, uniforms etc.?

“Watch to see if legislators campaign against this initiative.” And then vote to defeat those who do.