We like most of the folks who work for the city of Los Altos. Our local government employees do a good job by and large, and we believe they enjoy a fruitful relationship with residents. They’ve established a reputation for being professional, responsive and transparent.
That last adjective – transparent – is now being put to the test. The city’s stubborn refusal to release a February 2010 memo discussing development of property at First and Main streets allows its openness and accountability to be called into question. No matter what the circumstances behind the memo, the city should release it – immediately – and live with the consequences.
Why? Because the city is legally obligated to do so under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). Releasing it makes good ethical sense, trumping any excuse for withholding it.
Downtown property owner Kim Cranston is demanding that the city release the memo, apparently a note from then-Economic Development Coordinator Anne Stedler to Assistant City Manager James Walgren and then-City Manager Doug Schmitz. The note allegedly urged the city to take a look at other prospects for developing the First and Main site. After the city rejected his FOI requests, Cranston filed suit in May to force the memo’s release. He recently pointed out that the city has spent thousands in legal fees to fight his suit.
From what we can tell, the city has offered two rather lame reasons as to why the memo should not be released: (1) the memo was an informal communication; (2) staff discourse would be stymied as a result of the memo’s release.
Cities across the state use deliberative process arguments for not releasing information, but First Amendment attorneys defeat the argument time and time again.
The issue also has been covered by other local media over the past week. The Daily Post, Patch and Los Altos Politico have all weighed in on what is obviously an important transparency question.
What’s the worst-case scenario for the city? A public revelation that the city made mistakes? An even worse mistake is not releasing the memo. Release it, and its truth shall set you free. Let’s get this behind us.