California bureaucrats: avoiding transparency or wastefully incompetent?

Robert Fellner

Being both an environmentalist and an advocate for government transparency was doubly painful last week. It is quite common for public agencies to stall or attempt to deny public records requests, but some methods are just too bizarre to believe. Two separate California school districts – Duarte Unified School District and Hacienda La Puente Unified School District – decided that instead of providing the requested records in electronic format as requested, they would print out their entire payroll records and mail them, along with an invoice for the cost of production.

California’s Public Records Act makes perfectly clear in § 6253.9(a) that public records are to be provided in their original, electronic format when requested, and I stressed this in the records requests to the school districts. Yet, not only did both agencies feel comfortable defying this part of state law, they thought nothing of wasting the resources associated with mailing a massive print out without even pausing to confirm that I would pay the associated costs of production!

There are two possible ways to view this. The first is that this is an elaborate, wasteful method of denying my public records act request ­in which I stress the importance of electronic format so that, “these records can be uploaded into an online database for easy viewing” by attempting to technically satisfy the request while obstructing its purpose.

The second is that both agencies failed to read the request properly and thought nothing of employing the most environmentally harmful, inefficient, and costly way possible to satisfy this request, all without ever stopping to confirm this assumption with the requestor.

Quite frankly, I’m not sure which one is worse!

Stalling tactics are annoying and wasteful, but I’ve faced worse than this and most agencies — eventually — comply with the law. Just not before wasting their time (and mine) with games like this.

In the meantime, I encourage you to visit to see the 3 million-plus records we have obtained so far, many from agencies that are dedicated to helping, not stalling, public records requests.

And for those inquiring about the inclusion of school districts, do not let these two examples discourage you; we will be adding school districts to the site later this year.

Robert Fellner

Robert Fellner

Policy Director

Robert Fellner joined the Nevada Policy in December 2013 and currently serves as Policy Director. Robert has written extensively on the issue of transparency in government. He has also developed and directed Nevada Policy’s public-interest litigation strategy, which led to two landmark victories before the Nevada Supreme Court. The first resulted in a decision that expanded the public’s right to access government records, while the second led to expanded taxpayer standing for constitutional challenges in Nevada.

An expert on government compensation and its impact on taxes, Robert has authored multiple studies on public pay and pensions. He has been published in Business Insider,, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register,, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Examiner, and elsewhere.

Robert has lived in Las Vegas since 2005 when he moved to Nevada to become a professional poker player. Robert has had a remarkably successfully poker career including two top 10 World Series of Poker finishes and being ranked #1 in the world at 10/20 Pot-Limit Omaha cash games.

Additionally, his economic analysis on the minimum wage won first place in a 2011 George Mason University essay contest. He also independently organized a successful grassroots media and fundraising effort for a 2012 presidential candidate, before joining the campaign in an official capacity.