Transparency And Citrus College

Want to find out what a Citrus College committee formed to support Prop. 30 did? That could be expensive.

Want to find out what benefits, including salary, health benefits and car allowances, Citrus College board members have received since 2011? That could be expensive.

Want to find out how much money Citrus College has spent on legal fees this year? That could be expensive.

Or at least that’s what it appears in the ongoing fight between Citrus College and open government advocate Gil Aguirre and his lawyer, Kelly Aviles.

A few months ago, after allegations that the board skirted the Ralph M. Brown Act, which governs how public entities conduct their business, before voting on a raise for the school’s president, Aguirre demanded that the board repeal the raise and start following state open meeting laws.

I called Aviles, a Citrus College graduate, this week to get an update. She chuckled and then sighed, saying the board has decided to not only ignore open meeting laws but make it as difficult as possible to obtain what are clearly public records.

“We initially made the public records request after we found some other questionable issues,” Aviles said. “So we put together a comprehensive public records request, and while it is large, it was meant to get all the records we needed to determine what exactly they are doing and if major problems exist.”

Citrus College has publicly denied violating open meeting laws, and in its response to Aguirre’s public records request, wrote that some of the information could be stored on “back-up tapes” and searching and obtaining could be expensive. The board will be asking its tech department what “expensive” actually means.

What are some of those tough-to-find documents that might be unsearchable and “not reasonably accessible”?

Documents related to the formation and activities of a committee to support the passage of Prop. 30. (I’ll leave aside the question of why a college board created a committee for a political agenda for now.) In order words, records related to a proposition that passed just last week are “not reasonably accessible.”

Other hard-to-reach documents, according to the board, are expense reports, reimbursement requests and records of payments submitted by – or paid on behalf of – the president and board members.

The time period in question? This year.

The default standard for the retention of most public records in California is two years. So it’s odd that the board is taking this stance. There’s an argument if the records are a decade old. But three months ago? Two months ago? Two weeks ago?

Aviles, to put it lightly, is outraged.

“It’s akin to taking last week’s budget, shredding it, and storing it in a box,” she said. “Now if the public wants it, they can come get it, but they’ll have to pay Citrus to put it back together.”

Aviles noted that Citrus College is not the only one guilty of making it difficult to obtain records that should be easily accessible. But she and Aguirre, both of whom have been sweeping through the San Gabriel Valley and turning over rocks, appear to be close to drawing a line.

“If they keep going along this way, we’ll just make an example of them,” Aviles said. “The public has the right to these records without paying thousand of dollars. These are public records, not a public official’s private records.”

This is going to be fun.

Originally posted in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune