Public Records may not be a blockbuster topic. Though it should be…
Public Records have been a systemic problem and sore subject for the City of Milpitas for a while. It has cost the city tons of money over the course of the last few years. Is it because the City of Milpitas is intentionally withholding Public Records or are inept at understanding and maintaining public records? I guess I can understand their lack of understanding, especially when it comes to Social Media.
Can Social Media Posts be considered a public record? Absolutely!!! According to California Public Records Law, “social media sites are subject to the California Public Records Act.”
What does that mean for us as citizens? It is great. It gives us and elected officials a new and inexpensive way to engage in transparent Government and civic duties. Fast and efficient ways to relay essential information about meeting times, civic events, and public safety. However, there are rules, laws, and policies set by the state. What our public officials say, do, post, or stream is public record. They are not allowed to delete or hide those posts, they are not allowed to block someone from their page, they are not allowed to delete public comments (except under some extremely specific circumstances)—doing any of those things is a violation of the public records laws of California. Regardless of whether there is a disclaimer on their Social Media page or not, that disclaimer does not supersede the laws of California, and has little to zero meaning. It is a smoke screen.
On September 24th, Mayor Rich Tran hosted a Facebook Live Questions & Answer event on his Mayoral Facebook page, which is subject to public records laws. He discussed his views on Prop 16. Some of his views regarding Prop 16 were controversial. For instance, he said he worked and went to school (college) and became successful, as did many of his friends. Insensitive to the fact that everyone does not have the same advantages he may have had. He has no idea what challenges people face. In that comment, he was completely out of touch with the needs of underserved communities and the ability of Affirmative Action to level the playing field.
He was asked by one of the commenters to try to get to know his African American constituents. Mayor Tran went onto a long diatribe about how his only interactions with African Americans was through sports, parties, clubbing and a little through his time in social work. I find that statement extremely disgusting and offensive. There is an African American community here in Milpitas, who is underrepresented, whose struggles can be unique and deeply rooted in systemic institutionalized racism, and for the Mayor to sum up their existence in relation to Prop 16 as purely entertainment interactions is sad and disappointing. Not at all how a mayor should categorize people who live in the city he represents, or people in general.
Needless to say, I was upset at hearing this come out of Mayor Tran’s mouth. A Mayor who stands on the shoulders of former Mayor Ben Gross and the legacy he gave Milpitas. I did not want to immediately react out of anger. I decided to sleep on it and return refreshed in the morning to have more thoughtful criticism. I went to Mayor Tran’s Mayoral Facebook page and the post of his Questions & Answer session was gone.
He CANNOT do that. That video was a public record. He deleted a public record. It deprives us as citizens the promise and right to demand transparent government. It undermines holding our elected officials, who work for us, accountable for their actions. Their words and behavior have weight, meaning, and impact to our community, to our city. They can be divisive or inclusive. When a public servant violates the law and removes or deletes public records, it inhibits our constitutional right to make decisions based on facts and records.
Mayor Tran says all the time his voting record speaks for itself (he abstains more than anyone else on the council). There is more to making a choice than a person’s voting record; that is only part of the picture, only part of the information. We as citizens deserve the whole picture, all the information. Overall, it is us who will pay the consequences for making a bad choice with our votes, be it in policies created, taxes raised, revenue missed out on, or public services cut. They are all tied into Public Records and having the entirety of information, having Government Transparency.
I’m sure Mayor Tran will say I’m just being a “Hater.” No sir, I don’t hate, I just love my city, and wish the best for it. I pray for members of our local government to stop embarrassing the city with pettiness. for the Mayor to take off the letterman’s jacket, put on your Mayor’s cap and be mature, be civil, and govern with transparency.