News outlet sues city of San Jose over alleged public records violations

San Jose is being sued by an independent nonprofit news organization claiming that too much city business is being conducted in private email exchanges, keeping it hidden from the public.

The San Jose Spotlight has partnered with the First Amendment Coalition in the suit, alleging the city is "improperly withholding public records in violation of the state’s transparency laws," according to a post published by the outlet.

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The suit was filed Thursday morning in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

According to San Jose Spotlight co-founder and CEO Ramona Giwargis, residents of the city have a right to know about conversations that are happening over private email accounts.

"Major public policy decisions that affect their lives, affect their families, affect their livelihood," she told KCBS Radio.

But the non-profit news outlet has repeatedly not been getting the whole story when filing public records requests, Giwargis claimed.

"What we realized is what we’re getting from them was either incomplete or excessively redacted," she said. "In some cases, they did not turn over copies of emails that we knew existed."

One, in particular, cited in the suit was an email Spotlight was given between a homeless advocate in the city and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, where the mayor told him to write to his private account instead.

Liccardo was not available to speak with KCBS Radio. But Chief of Staff Jim Reed released a statement on Thursday in response to the allegations.

"In recent months, the Mayor’s Office staff, City Manager's Office staff, and City Attorney's Office staff have spent hundreds of hours reviewing and producing thousands of pages of documents in response to multiple Public Record Act requests from a single entity, San José Spotlight," the statement read.

"Although our team mistakenly missed two emails in our good faith effort to respond to one PRA request, we provided both of those emails in a subsequent request. We have implemented additional procedures to minimize such mistakes and ensure we continue to promptly and completely comply with PRA requests in the future," the statement concluded.

According to Giwargis, that characterization of events is inaccurate. "We're hoping to actually see some bigger changes as a result of this lawsuit," she said. "We're hoping to see some reform."

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