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(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today released three new publications designed to educate and increase the public's access to their government. The publications provide valuable information about state laws regarding conflicts of interest, public records and open meetings.
"A vigilant public is democracy's best defense against the misuse of power," said Lockyer. "These publications provide Californians with the information they need to enforce their right to participate in open government. As we elect new government leaders next week, I am certain that these updated publications will help ensure that our government remains accessible to the people it serves, the public."
These three publications provide a comprehensive and easy-to-understand overview of state laws and court decisions. Prior versions have been favorably cited by the courts and relied upon by the public, government officials and the media. They are cornerstone reference materials because they represent the starting point in resolving questions that arise in these specialized areas of the law.
<div align="center"><strong><u>Conflict of Interest</u></strong>
The Conflict of Interest pamphlet summarizes eight different conflict of interest laws in California and discusses the laws themselves and the ways in which they have been interpreted by the courts and by published opinions of the Attorney General. Conflict of interest laws are grounded on the notion that government officials owe paramount loyalty to the public, and that personal or private financial considerations on the part of government officials should not be allowed to enter the decision making process. The purpose of this pamphlet is to assist government officials in complying with California's conflict of interest laws and to assist the public and the news media in understanding these laws so that conflict of interest situations can be monitored and avoided.</div>
<div align="center"><strong><u>Public Records</u></strong>
The fundamental precept of the California Public Records Act is that governmental records shall be disclosed to the public, upon request, unless the record is expressly exempt from disclosure. There also is a public interest balancing test that exempts records from disclosure when the government can demonstrate that the public interest in non-disclosure clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure. Two recurring interests justify most of the exemptions from disclosure. Several exemptions are based on a recognition of the individual's right to privacy (e.g., privacy in certain personnel, medical or similar records). Other exemptions are based on the government's need to perform its assigned functions in a reasonably efficient manner (e.g., maintaining confidentiality of investigative records and records related to pending litigation.)
The Attorney General's summary describes the public's rights to government records and the procedures surrounding the exercise of these rights. It also summarizes the government agency's rights to withhold certain types of records. By providing a concise description of the public's right to access government records the publication seeks to increase public and governmental understanding of the law in order to minimize misunderstandings and promote access.</div>
<div align="center"><strong><u>Open Meetings</u></strong>
The third publication summarizes the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act which covers all "state" boards and commissions. It generally requires these bodies to publicly notice their meetings, prepare agendas, accept public testimony and conduct their meetings in public unless specifically authorized to meet in closed session. This pamphlet was written with the individual board member in mind, and is intended to be an easy "how-to" guide to the law. This pamphlet augments the Attorney General's 2003 pamphlet entitled "The Brown Act, Open Meetings for Local Legislative Bodies" which summarizes the open meeting law for local boards and commissions.
All three publications are available at the Attorney General's website, www.ag.ca.gov/publications. A limited number of individual print copies may be obtained by sending a written request to the Attorney General's Office, Public Inquiry Unit, P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550.
If Proposition 59 on the November ballot is adopted, these publications will be revised to reflect its enactment. The measure proposes to amend the state Constitution to create a right of public access to meetings of government bodies and writings of government officials. However, Proposition 59 expressly preserves the open meeting and public record statutes, including their exemptions, that are the subject of these publications.</div>