In the past week or so the whole nation has been told about the Louisiana middle school teacher who was dragged away from a school board meeting in handcuffs after she peaceably protested a proposed $30,000 raise for the superintendent when average class sizes had recently increased by third.

Such squelching of unwanted speech by local officials is not unknown in California, and executive raises in local government here need  be preceded by only an oral summary of the proposed action; no open discussion of the merits (as in Louisiana) is required.

Moreover, as of January 1, California’s city councils, county supervisors and special district boards can keep secret records showing the “deliberative processes, impressions, evaluations, opinions, recommendations, meeting minutes, research, work products, theories, or strategy” they developed in negotiating pay or benefit increases with employee bargaining units—including representatives of agency administrators.

Californians Aware unsuccessfully opposed that legislation, and a couple of years ago saw a veto of a bill it helped draft to give greater protection to citizens speaking to power at local bodies’ meetings.

But we keep fighting for both free speech and a government open to public view and criticism.

In the last year, for example, CalAware has been in court in two cases challenging officials’ illegal use of closed session meetings to deal with dangerous conditions in public transportation and with financial crises in local government.

We’ve also completely rebuilt our website (www.calaware.org) to help people better learn about and effectively use their rights to free speech, government transparency and protected whistleblowing.

But I have spent most of my time and energy recently in planning how to sustain and even extend our work in 2018 as I throttle back to a consulting role.

What that involves is, first, building a fund to afford a salaried executive director. We began last year by earning a $10,000 down payment thanks to the matching gift from an anonymous angel, and another $1,000 donation came last month. That and some change leaves about $38K to go, which we’ll have to put together starting now and ending in the spring.

The great news is that we’ve found a wonderful candidate for the job—a proven fighter for open government, free speech and protected whistleblowing who’s a lawyer, a journalist, and a legislative advocate who’s willing to work for less than market value just because the challenge offers such rare opportunities for both interesting professional achievement and significant public service.

More will be needed than just a new staff leader, no matter how well suited to the position. To build capacity, as the phrase goes, more will need to be done, and to great extent done by volunteers and interns, coordinated by an experienced volunteer leader. But that will all depend on hiring the executive director.

Whether your contribution is fully deductible under new IRS rules or not, please enable our transition from a volunteer to an employee effort* now that we’ve found the ideal new quarterback for CalAware. You can contribute online or by mailing your check to Californians Aware, 2218 Homewood Way, Carmichael CA 95608. And by all means pass the word about our mission and need to friends and acquaintances who care as much as you do about informed self-government.

 

Terry Francke

* In the 14 years since we started up I have not taken a salary, in effect working as a volunteer to put as much income as possible into program and service expenses. But I can’t expect my successor to do the same!