Guest Opinion: City is Stonewalling CPRA Requests

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By Michele Monda

By Michèle Monda

A sound democracy depends upon transparent governance – something Laguna seems to be lacking lately. The California Public Record Act Request (CPRA) entitles the public to information from the City. Unfortunately, Laguna officials are using specious exceptions to deny the release of information to the public and press.

For example:

On Dec. 22, 2022 a CPRA request was made for information regarding city manager Shoreh Dupuis’ Nov. 16, 2022, cell-phone-while-driving traffic stop. Speculation about that stop indicates that Dupuis may have been attempting to influence the officer by claiming she was speaking with police chief Calvert and nullifying the stop. For clarity, a CPRA from the public requested phone records, dispatch records, body cam footage from the officer and emails relating to the stop.  

By law, the City has 10 days to respond to a CPRA request. The City needed 14 more days. Then more time for redactions. It took 40 days to receive a response for a simple traffic stop CPRA. Why so long?

The City hired an expensive, specialized Los Angeles law firm to handle this simple request. This case was seemingly too difficult for the City’s retained law, firm Rutan and Tucker, and city attorney Phil Kohn. Again, why go to all these lengths for a $20 infraction?

This law firm only released two cell phone screen captures and three emails, which clarified nothing except that there was a lot of questionable activity conducted over a simple traffic stop. 

On the day of the stop, Chief Calvert met with the citing patrol officer to discuss the citation issued to Ms. Dupuis. Hardly normal behavior for a $20 fine. 

Then, after the CPRA was filed, City activity increased even more. Chief Calvert directed a Captain to “explain” additional facts using second-hand information to the citing officer. Then, the citing officer was told to meet with Chief Calvert and Dupuis for clarification regarding Dupuis’ comments and his concerns about the integrity of her statements during the stop. This seems unusual. Since the city manager is the boss of the police, this certainly gives the appearance of favored treatment ­to Ms. Dupuis.

The City is stonewalling the release of documents that would prove one way or the other what happened that day. Ms. Dupuis gave her version of events in an email to the City Council. These stories are inconsistent when piecing together information from those familiar with the incident and the few documents the City released.  

The law firm claims that information about a police investigation is exempt from the public. How does this simple $20 traffic stop justify secrecy and a police investigation? The law firm never attempted to explain any harm that would be caused by release of the requested records. They just said no. One wonders what they charged.

The CPRA requested the phone records from the city manager’s City-paid cell phone. Residents pay for that phone and have a right to see these records. There is no expectation of privacy on government electronics. So why won’t the City release this information? If there’s nothing to hide because city manager Dupuis’ version is correct, nor any identifiable and significant government interest that requires secrecy here, why not release the records? 

The lack of transparency and willingness to comply with what residents are legally entitled to from their city government is stunning in Laguna. This pushback, lack of transparency and deflection continues to this day; at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the city manager called out four residents by name for bullying and creating a “hostile work environment” for exercising their First Amendment and Brown Act rights to free speech, ask questions and scrutinize City officials’ actions. How can residents, who do not work in City government, create a hostile work environment? As a public official, the city manager should be above attempting to illegally call out and intimidate residents – which is its own form of bullying.

Residents deserve better than to be stonewalled, refused and dismissed, especially when it involves records that the public has a right to see. City Council – you can demand the release of these records. Please do so and step up for residents.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. I’d like to direct your question back to you: “Why go to all these lengths for a $20 infraction?”

    I’ve never witnessed a sadder spectacle than the weekly rants and complaints from someone who is living so comfortably in such a sprawling estate in such a lovely town. Your anger is misplaced and is fostering the hostile environment that would encourage someone to vandalize and terrorize our hard working city manager for just doing her job. Well done, Michele.

  2. It’s about transparency, lying, incompetence and favoritism. It’s about holding public officials accountable to my three tenants of good governance: transparency, fiscal responsibility and resident centric policies. None of which this city manager seems to hold in high regard. Do you have any facts to back up your statement that anything I have said would provoke someone to do such a vile thing to the CM’s house? Because if you don’t I suggest you shut up and stop accusing people who are exercising their First Amendment and Brown Act rights to question exactly what the city government is doing with my money and the direction they are taking the lovely town I moved here for.

  3. Michele, well written and astounding! I think Mr. Fried has missed the point entirely. To explain it to some would be fruitless. Laws are being broken here, certainly inferred, this is nothing about a $20 ticket, but instead the legality and obvious attempt to get out of a police stop because your are the City Manager. This seemly little infraction is about a much bigger principle and we the tax payers are paying legal fee’s and time for this. If one will simply pick up a phone to get out of a $20 ticket then how do they run the rest of their business…inquiring minds would like to know. I think moral and ethical character is important here and thank you Michele for taking the time on something so important.

  4. The lovely town you moved here for is being lovingly care-taken in all ways big and important, and continues to be a jewel of the Pacific.

    Nothing has been bulldozed. No skyscrapers. Our enchanted neighborhoods continue to be enchanted. Our commercial zones are functioning and providing needed services, and abundant dining, entertainment, and cultural options. We are trying to mitigate the effects of climate change, improve our sustainability, keep our ocean clean, and manage problems associated with overpopulation in the region – like free trolleys and transit. Everyone wants to visit or live here and our home values have skyrocketed. Our city employees work daily trying to improve our quality of life, and most importantly, try to keep us safe with fire, earthquake and flood mitigation.

    And Shohreh Dupuis has been 10x more transparent than her predecessor, John Pietig, who ran the city as a fortress and was completely sealed off from the public. You wanna talk policy with Shohreh? She’ll make time. You want to talk accusatory nonsense? She’ll shut you down because she ain’t got time for it.

    Where exactly is the problem that would have you and your cohorts cooking up weekly bogus conspiracy theories? And yes, this absolutely creates a climate of anger and cynicism that gives permission for wackos to do sicko things. Take the temperature and faux outage over a $20 ticket that is none of your business down a notch, and please, for your own sake, have a nice day.

  5. Stonewalling, you betcha. The CA under investigation by the OC DA for potential civil and federal liability along with the city? yup. The director of Community Development sounding off in appeals with mis information and distraction to rationalize more CEQA exemptions so developers can build McMansions, heck ya.

    Blake was right, this is still Bob and Sue’s town. As we watch the newly elected forget us and vote with insiders. In our opinion the city, CM and PIO should brush up on a few laws because neighbors, its all we got to protect us from several new street deaths to seeing our amazing habitat, environment and heritage picked apart by the Weil led DRB. All on Whalen’s watch. Sadly our amazing greenbelt will now turn cement color and plants and animals will flee.

    If there is zero to hide about the phone ticket, disclose it. It may take a few more years to clean out the waste from the chamber. Meantime, we need each other. Don’t close your eyes again. Speak out. Act.

  6. Thank you Michele, for bringing this to our attention and even though it may be a $20.00 ticket and I like to put my faith in our government I like to know what’s really going on. And Billy we hear from a lot of concern citizens every week; like it or not it’s their right to question how our tax dollars are being spent even the small amounts. Asking questions is how we learn, when the government hides things it has to be questioned over and over.

  7. This is just the latest chapter in a relentless campaign by self-appointed gadflies to drive the city manager out of town. Whatever one thinks of her performance — I find her smart, hard-working, and well-prepared — the contempt directed at her is dehumanizing and disgusting. It also creates an atmosphere in which some lunatic feels empowered to vandalize her home. This was a hate crime that her haters, without an ounce of concern or compassion, have minimized as “alleged” and “a hose off” that “happens to everyone.” Shameless.

  8. Women generally succeed in a man’s world by being smarter and working harder, and that’s what Shohreh has done. And yet here we are with a cabal of women who, without a shred of evidence, fabricate stories about the city being under siege by developers, and have lined up to attack the civil servant whose job it is to implement the will of Council. And who does so effectively. So sad when women attack other women of quality and integrity.

  9. Thank you Michele. As you well know, anytime someone speaks up they chance becoming a target. I commend you for your steadfast and relentless pursuit of our city government transparency. Questioning actions and decision-making of those we put in powerful positions should be welcomed rather than shunned. It’s called accountability.

    I know you to be an intelligent, objective, conservative and responsible community member who takes action only when it becomes necessary. In the CPRA inquiry you share here in detail, it is clear that some transparency and other internal issues may exist. IMO, it would behoove the city to provide all of the public information as requested per the law. Anything less is unacceptable. I can attest to the issues you raise about City PRA requests in general and believe the timeliness and stonewalling claims have merit.

    In the bigger picture, every elected and government employee understands the professional environment they are in and the laws that bind them. If they don’t they are definitely in the wrong position and business. As LB stakeholders, we want the right people in the right place to serve us and we want them to have the support and respect they need and deserve. This works both ways.

    Michele, there will always be people with different views and opinions. As I do, you respect and honor this even when you may not agree. Some will resort to labeling and name-calling to promote their positions. Ignore them. Stay the course and get the answers you are entitled to. And please keep the public informed and updated. Thank you.

  10. Billy, without a shred of evidence of any bullying! I’m sorry but The CM has no right to name people that posted a picture that shows how attractive the CM is on social media, it was only pictures of her in a public meeting. She looked good why would she say she was being bullied? She’s a public figure and had to know she’d be called out for things citizens don’t like. It comes with the job!!!

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