May 20, 2007

Rosemead is not too far behind Lakewood

Well Rosemead is not too far behind Lakewood. It just goes to show that until these cities are called on the carpet for this lax attitude this is what were are going to get. See all our related stories under the subject "Open Government: Mission Unfulfilled" (on the right margin of this page)

Rosemead lags in getting the word out
City struggles to achieve public records efficiency
By Jennifer McLain Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - The city is behind the times in providing public information.

As other cities offer reports online,
Rosemead residents can only view paper documents for city business at three locations. Copies will cost 15 cents a page. West Covina broadcasts its City Council meetings on television and on the Web, and Diamond Bar's meetings can also be seen online.

Not in Rosemead - its meetings are only audio video taped.

"I think we got a late start," said City Manager Andrew Lazzaretto, adding that the city's Web site was introduced a year ago. Meeting agendas are posted on the site. "And I can guarantee that a lot of the systems and records are in disarray."

Limited financial resources, cluttered and inefficient archives and a past disinterest in technology are some of reasons why the city is behind the times in providing public information via the Internet, officials said.

Rosemead also has difficulty in responding timely to public information requests or acknowledging that the requests will be filled late.

"It is unlawful and inexcusable," said Terry Francke, counsel for Californians Aware, an open-government advocacy group. "They do it because no one has seriously called them out on it."

Rosemead council members did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Resident Jim Flournoy, who has several pending lawsuits against the city, thinks Rosemead is "terrible" at responding to public records requests.

"We don't think they answer the requests at all," he said. "We put in a request in November, and we didn't get a response until March or April."

City Clerk Nina Castruita said that she tries to let people know how their request is coming along, although responding to requests is difficult with only one full-time employee in the clerk's office and an antiquated records system.

According to the California Public Records Act, agencies are required promptly, and in no case more than 10 days from the date of the request, to determine and inform the applicant in writing as to whether the request will be granted. In some cases, agencies can take an additional 14 days to make a determination.

Marlene Shinen, a San Gabriel resident who was against the construction of Wal-Mart, said she has made records requests and one has been outstanding for months.

"I never got a letter for a request I made on Feb. 11," she said. "There's been so much stalling, dismissal, neglect, brush-off, whatever you want to call it."

Lazzaretto said he thinks the city is adhering to state law.

"I think we are fulfilling the requests as best we can," Lazzaretto said. "Some of our systems are not where we need to be."

The CPRA also limits the fee that could be charged for making copies. The law permits a direct cost of duplication.

"They can't charge any more than making the council copies," Francke said. "15 cents is well beyond the cost of direct duplication."

A request for documents concerning when the City Council approved how much the city would charge for documents and how it came to that figure has not yet been responded to. The request was made on May 10.

But posting documents online could eventually be a cost savings, Francke said.

"The thing about posting documents of any kind on a Web site is that by and large, it eliminates a lot of specific records requests," Francke said.

Lazzaretto thinks the city will eventually join the ranks of Monterey Park, West Covina, Diamond Bar and Azusa, who provide either staff reports online, broadcast their council meetings on television, or streamline the meetings online.

"I'm kind of envious of these cities, where you could go on their Web site and get all kinds of slick information," Lazzaretto said. "I think we are moving in that direction."

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2477

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