Garden Grove Warned By State Over Making Documents Available


Published:
Source: Chris Haire, Orange County Register

Garden Grove warned by state over making election documents available

OC Register

By Chris Haire

6/1/16

Garden Grove warned by state over making election documents available

GARDEN GROVE – The City Clerk’s Office violated a state requirement by making people submit public-records requests before viewing election-related documents, the California agency that monitors political activity has said.

State law allows anybody to view election documents, such as campaign statements or financial disclosures, by walking into a city clerk’s office and asking for them.

But Garden Grove violated that when it “required that a public records request be completed when a request was made for campaign statements,” the Fair Political Practices Commission said in a warning letter sent to City Manager Scott Stiles last month.

Garden Grove officials, though, say the violation was a misunderstanding caused by wording on the city clerk’s website.

“We were acting in compliance, but the website made it look like we weren’t following the rules,” said City Clerk Kathy Bailor. “I understood we made that mistake, so I wasn’t surprised when (the commission) brought that to our attention.”

The clerk’s office has a binder at the front counter with all of the election documents, which anyone can view when City Hall is open, said Terri Pomeroy, Garden Grove’s deputy city clerk.

Those who call or email asking for election forms usually receive them by email the same day – or, at most, the next day if the office is busy, Bailor said.  

But the city clerk’s website used to have a link to a public records request form, sometimes used by the public to get documents an agency is initially declining to turn over. The link was somewhat near where information was provided about election materials.

The commission, Pomeroy said, thought that the location and the wording was vague and may lead people to think they had to submit requests for election
documents. The website now has a line specifically saying election documents
are available during regular business hours.

“We’re confident the city has taken the steps necessary to alleviate the issue,” Jay Wierenga, the commission’s spokesman, said in an email. He also noted that this type of violation is relatively common.

Several residents who follow the goings-on of Garden Grove and often speak at City Council meetings said they have never had a problem looking at election documents at the clerk’s office. 

“We’ve always gotten what we were looking for,” said Maureen Blackmun, head of the Garden Grove Neighborhood Association.