In an attempt to circumvent public disclosure requirements under the Public Records Act, Oxnard city management is claiming that the results of a taxpayer-funded public opinion poll are a “trade secret,” and are refusing to disclose that information to the public.
As we were petitioning over the summer to qualify our five ballot measures for the November 2020 election, some petition signers told us they had received a telephone survey about the same subjects as our petitions. We weren’t conducting any such survey, so obviously we were curious.
We thought perhaps the city was behind it, as they’ve clearly said they oppose our measures, but state law doesn’t permit them to spend taxpayer funds on political campaigns.
Sadly, our suspicions were well-founded.
When the October 15 agenda of the Oxnard City Council meeting was posted, it disclosed that the city had conducted the survey and used it to craft their “Government Accountability and Ethics Act” (designated as Measure B) which they have placed on the March 2020 primary ballot.
The city didn’t just independently develop an interest in good governance and self-reform. It was, of course, a calculated reaction to undermine our proposed ballot measures. We'll give you a lot more information about Measure B in the coming weeks.
Since the survey was funded by taxpayer dollars, the public is entitled to see the records that were produced from it. We submitted Public Records Act requests for copies of the supporting documents (requests for proposals, submitted proposals, contracts, etc.) along with the survey questionnaire and the survey results.
Though the city provided us with copies of the vendor contracts (discussed our next blog article), they denied us the actual survey questionnaire and the data. The city claims that the questionnaire itself, as well as the results of the survey are “trade secrets,” so they are therefore exempt from disclosure.
We all know what trade secrets are. The formula for Coca Cola is a trade secret, and that company has legitimate business reasons for not sharing that formula with the world.
When the city’s pollster phoned 600 Oxnard voters and read a questionnaire to them over the phone, it's rather absurd to argue that it became a trade secret that can’t be disclosed to person number 601.
Oxnard city management wishes to portray itself as being transparent, but their actions say otherwise.
Unfortunately, the city won’t release the information to the public unless ordered by a judge, so we filed a lawsuit to make them comply with the law.
You and I are expected to follow the laws. It baffles us that the City believes laws do not apply to them.
Not to worry. We'll set them straight!
We're highly amused by Oxnard City Attorney Steven Fischer's quote in the VCReporter that, "Any suggestion whatsoever that the city has not been transparent or is hiding something is absolutely false." The city clerk's email response to our Public Records Act request stated very clearly that, "The City is withholding records from disclosure, in whole or in part, pursuant to the following exemptions..."