Should government workers and elected officials in cities, counties, water districts, school districts and other local governments be required to do their public business in public? Should they be required to post meeting agendas and turn over documents on request? Of course. It's a no-brainer. We shouldn't need a ballot measure to require them to obey what is already California law. We shouldn't have to go to the polls on June 3 to vote for Proposition 42. We shouldn't have to — but we do. The Times strongly endorses Proposition 42.
The measure would amend the state Constitution to prevent lawmakers from suspending portions of the Ralph M. Brown Act requiring adequate public notice of local government meetings, and portions of the Public Records Act requiring that documents be available for public inspection.
Proposition 42 is necessary because the state's budget crunch moved the governor and lawmakers to stop reimbursing cities, counties, schools and special districts for the costs of doing all that paperwork, and a few of those governments responded by threatening to simply stop doing it. Without state money, they argued, open government laws were unfunded mandates and they didn't have to comply.
Voters should make it clear that they do have to comply — government workers and politicians do have to obey the law, and they do have to do their work in public — regardless of who pays for it.
Of course, it's always the taxpayers who pay for it, and it's a worthwhile expenditure to ensure that elected leaders don't turn government into a secret society. Those leaders are now simply fighting over whether to take it from the taxpayers' state pocket or their local pocket, and they're using public access to meetings and documents as leverage. This battle between Sacramento and local governments has been going on since the Gold Rush days, and it became bigger and noisier 36 years ago in the wake of Proposition 13. Californians have to pay attention to that battle, because the prize is more than just their wallets. It's their rights as well.
One of the reasons the state Constitution has as many words and chapters as a modest public library is that voters have to keep adding provisions like this one that say, in essence, "When we said you have to keep government open, we meant it."