Cal States, UC’s and community colleges become more transparent

Braulio Campos

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California’s Legislature voted to shine a light on state colleges’ records and documents starting Jan. 1, 2012, when previously unavailable information will be made public.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill Sept. 7, after it moved through the state legislature for three years and endured two gubernatorial rejections.

The ruling comes after Cal State Stanislaus students found shredded papers in April 2010 detailing how much money Sarah Palin was contracted for speaking on campus, according to press release from Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco.

Campus officials denied the records existed, and an investigation was pending when the students discovered the documents in the trash.

Senate bill 8 will make available correspondence, contracts, financial and donation records previously kept from the public and maintained by third parties, which did not have to adhere to the California Public Record Act.

Before SB 8, the budgets and expenses of these organizations and foundations have been kept behind closed doors, said Adam Keigwin, Yee’s chief of staff.

“These establishments have been acting in secrecy, hiding the functions of running a university behind closed doors,” Keigwin said. “Using auxiliary agencies is good for the tax exemptions, but not at the cost of transparency and preventing accountability.”

Organizations can now be scrutinized and held accountable for any discrepancies, Keigwin said.

Brown could not be reached for comment.

Donors’ identities will not be disclosed except in situations when the donor receives something in return worth $2,500 or higher, according to the bill.

CSUN’s auxiliary organizations include the University Student Union (USU), which handles events, such as Student Showcase, and the University Corporation, which manages the campus’s bookstore and marketplace.

Come January, anyone will be able to see the contracts and expenses of these two entities, for a fee.

“We will be going to the chancellor’s office to receive training on how to handle the requests,” said Jon Griffin, University Corporation chief financial officer.

CSUN may have been ahead of the legislation, however, according to Jason Wang, USU associate executive director.

“Our contracts, financial budgets, procedures and audits are public records,” he said.  “There is a copy fee, but they are available.”

Auxiliaries will be able to charge for making copies of their records, but that is the only cost of this change, Keigwin said.

Yee, co-author of the new bill, is not a stranger to open-records laws.

While serving on the San Francisco board of supervisors, Yee also authored the Sunshine Ordinance, which grants the public access to what goes on at city hall.