Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was pleased to bask in favorable news coverage in June when he set up his Waste Watchers Web site to "hold government accountable" by shining light on abuses. Submissions from anonymous sources and others who identified themselves streamed in. The governor says already tipsters have saved taxpayers $24.2 million.
The problem is that specifics about the 3,400 submissions have yet to be shared with the public in detail.
What we essentially have is another government program asking Californians to trust that the government is vigorously investigating itself and doing a good job at it. There has to be a better way.
The San Francisco Chronicle asked to review the records, but was turned down. The governor's spokesman, Aaron McLear, told us the online and telephone submissions are exempt from the open-record laws because they constitute "personal correspondence" to the governor. We believe that twists a legal protection intended for communications from friends and relatives. The Chronicle offered to accept redacted records with names of whistle-blowers and accused state workers blacked out. The governor still refused.
Mr. McLear told us that redacting names wouldn't protect whistle-blowing state employees sufficiently from being identified by their bosses. He also contends that even if names were kept secret, disclosure could jeopardize ongoing investigations, running afoul of whistle-blower legal protections.
There has to be a middle ground between blowing a snitch's cover and giving away stealthy investigations on the one hand and informing the people of the peoples' business on the other.
It's unlikely that there is no information safe for public review among the thousands of submissions. Moreover, it's likely public review could spur further investigation as more people recognize the incidents referred to, and step forward with additional, as-yet undisclosed information, especially if they're protected from their bosses retaliating.
We suggest the governor can address concerns of sources fearful of being identified by protecting them from retaliation within the bureaucracy. To do less is to cower to the very threats the tipsters claim to fear. Who's running the government? Bullying supervisors?