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North County Transit District Sued To Release Records

Above: A North County Transit Coaster train is see at the station on June 5, 2008.

KPBS news partner inewsource filed a lawsuit Monday in San Diego County Superior Court to compel the North County Transit District to release documents inewsource considers public under the California Public Records Act.

NCTD declined to comment on the lawsuit, but justified its position in a previous email from one of its law firms. It said the documents in question are considered “personnel records” and are exempt from disclosure under a provision of state law.

inewsource is seeking the results of a leadership assessment, which the district paid UC San Diego's Rady School of Management more than $30,000 to conduct earlier this year.

NCTD runs the county’s Coaster, Breeze, Sprinter and Lift transit services, and uses San Diego County’s tax base to support its operations. For the past 13 months, inewsource has published a series of stories in an ongoing investigation detailing the district’s holes in security, misallocation of funding, questionable contracting, high employee turnover, lawsuits, audits and peer criticism.

In February, inewsource received a phone call from a source who said NCTD had recently completed a “Leadership Assessment Program” for some of its staff. inewsource verified the information through documents showing NCTD paid $31,200 to put more than a dozen of its senior managers through a one-day class at the Rady School. The school compiled a report for NCTD, detailing the strengths and weaknesses of each manager.

The source said the results of the study validated the previous inewsource reporting about NCTD’s “vacuum” of knowledge — the result of a high turnover rate among upper management and an alleged culture of intimidation inside the agency. According to multiple sources, this vacuum is to blame for much of the NCTD’s recent safety, compliance, budgetary and operational deficiencies.

On Feb. 5, inewsource filed a California Public Records Act request with NCTD for the Rady study, and a few days later, received a reply from Byll Shelton, the agency's insurance and risk management specialist. It said:

“We have determined that although such records exist, they are exempt from disclosure pursuant to Government Code section 6254(c) as they constitute a part of employees’ personnel files, the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

NCTD has used the "personnel exemption" to withhold a document before. In July 2013, NCTD denied an inewsource request for the resume of its executive director Matthew Tucker, claiming an exemption under the same government code — section 6254(c). inewsource‘s lawyer got involved and NCTD released the resume.

In the case of the leadership assessment, inewsource‘s lawyer, Guylyn Cummins, sent a detailed response to NCTD on Feb. 19, citing case law supporting disclosure of the Rady study.

NCTD denied the appeal through one of its seven law firms kept on-call, citing its own case law.

On Monday, inewsource filed its claim with San Diego County Superior Court.

Once the court assigns a judge to the case, inewsource’s legal representation will book the first available hearing date. The process is expected to take at least a few weeks.

Brad Racino is a multimedia reporter for inewsource, a KPBS media partner. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, email bradracino@inewsource.org or call (619) 594-3569.

Comments

Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | March 18, 2014 at 5:17 p.m. ― 9 months ago

Personnel records should be exempt from these witch hunts. Let's have KPBS open the personnel records of those asking the questions if these types of records are not exempt.

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Avatar for user 'Appalled'

Appalled | March 18, 2014 at 9:49 p.m. ― 9 months ago

Sure looks like NCTD has a policy to conceal records from the public. A few months ago in July 2013, NCTD changed its email retention period from 2 years to just 60 days, as reported in this story link below.

http://inewsource.org/2013/07/23/despite-nctd-board-vote-strong-public-response-for-open-government/

Per the story, NCTD received 55 emails in opposition to the policy. But NCTD Board members Ed Gallo and Bill Horn insulted the public's input, saying "Well, they have to show up."

The reporter also discovered that NCTD had previously spent $12,000 in taxpayer money on an email archiving system, specifically to archive the emails:

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/728696-barracuda.html

What is NCTD hiding?

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | March 19, 2014 at 8:21 a.m. ― 9 months ago

how much time are they being given to destroy and falsify records this time around?

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | March 19, 2014 at 8:26 a.m. ― 9 months ago

I have no idea what NCTD does. I firmly believe that employee personnel records should be confidential to the company. If Walmart does something wrong, would you publish 2 million records? NO!!!! Then why do you think it is OK anywhere?? This would open up a slippery slope. Honest people working for a company should not be targeted in the witch hunt. Perhaps appalled should publish his latest tax returs in the newspaper because he/she lives in the same county where NCTD operates. Or are you one of those do as I say people?
KPBS is sorely wrong here. Lots of companies hold classes for associates. Look at how many days teachers (who live off of tax dollars) spend in "learning" days. Has KPBS never had a seminar? They exist off of the public dole. Maybe it this type of reporting that makes them no be able to support itself. I think so.

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Avatar for user 'jtk'

jtk | March 19, 2014 at 9 a.m. ― 9 months ago

Wow, a lot of troubling facts in this article.

So public agency NCTD paid more than $30,000 to UCSD, another public entity, to conduct a leadership assessment. That sounds like a lot of tax dollars to me!

I certainly think the public is entitled to see this report that we paid for!

Also, NCTD keeps more than seven law firms on-call? How much legal trouble does this agency have? Lawsuits from the shutdown of the Sprinter for months?

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | March 19, 2014 at 5:23 p.m. ― 9 months ago

If NCTD needs investigated, so be it. Just leave personal information out of the information
published. Identity theft is on the rise. Personnel records would place the associates at risk. Is KPBS ready to pay for the damage done? Why not, it is with public money they get by begging.

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