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Quality of Life

North County Transit District Sued To Release Records

Money, Power And Transit
What began as a look into security issues within San Diego’s two transit agencies — the Metropolitan Transit System and the North County Transit District — has morphed into a full-scale investigation into the operations of just one.

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.

Corrected: February 3, 2023 at 5:33 AM PST
Brad Racino is a multimedia reporter for inewsource, a KPBS media partner. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, email or call (619) 594-3569.
Corrected: July 21, 2021 at 8:29 AM PDT
Brad Racino is a multimedia reporter for inewsource, a KPBS media partner. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, email or call (619) 594-3569.