I am thankful every day of my life that I live in a democracy.
A government by the people, for the people sure beats a system that caters to a dictator or a royal family. But like many good and wonderful things in this world, democracy must be nurtured, watched over and protected by everyone involved in order to maintain its greatness.
The people of California know that just because we have free elections doesn’t mean that after voting we can sit back and let the politicians do whatever they want. To make sure that our elected officials don’t say one thing on the campaign trail, then do whatever benefits them the most after being elected the California State Legislature put in place two very important acts — the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, which governs all state boards and commissions, and the Brown Act, which governs all local legislative bodies. These two acts make sure that the public knows what our elected bodies are up to.
To further guarantee the public’s rights, there is the California Public Records Act. The Public Records Act gives the public access to information in possession of public agencies — including school districts.
Any person — or organization, like a newspaper — can request public records and the public agency must comply. The Journal recently requested access to and copies of all e-mails, memos and correspondence between the Denair Unified School District Board of Trustees and Denair Middle School administration regarding Cody Alicea and the removal of an American flag from his bicycle. We requested these documents under the Public Records Act because the school district administration released two separate memos that contained conflicting information. When we asked the district why they did this, they refused to answer.
Well, in the state of California public agencies cannot do business behind closed doors. They must tell us how and why they are making decisions.
Shortly after requesting these public documents, the Journal received an e-mail from Steve Kinsell who asked us to forget about “this mountain-out-of-a-molehill and move on.”
When interviewing for the story about the Denair Unified School District documents and Cody Alicea, Journal reporter Jonathan McCorkell also came across opposition to his investigation. California School Employees Association representative Kyle Harvey lambasted Jonathan about the Journal writing another story about the flag issue.
This is my answer to both Kinsell and Harvey: We are a newspaper; it is our job to be a watchdog over public agencies.
I would bet that if the school district was making decisions on laying off employees and refused to say why, Harvey and the union would be first in line to cry foul. But when an incident involving a school employee arises, he wants secrecy.
You can’t pick and choose when to follow the laws of a democracy.
The story behind the Denair Unified School District conflicting memos may not be earth-shattering news. But when a public entity says one thing, then six months later changes its story — it’s worth looking in to.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.