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Paying the Price for Progress

It’s amazing how many bright people we have in this county to educate us on the causal factors of what at first may appear to be unfathomable dilemmas.

Case in point, how do we work our way out of a failed criminal justice experiment with “catch-and-release” policies seriously undermine basic public safety.

This week, Jerry Cardoza, of Ukiah, offered his expert insights on the issue:

“Hi Jim, I am a big fan of your common sense columns. I was a state Parole Agent for 35 years and was in charge of the Parole Agents supervising all (700) parolee’s in Lake and Mendocino counties for 15 years. Some background on the sentencing laws. In 2011 the federal courts ordered California to release 40,000 inmates due to overcrowding. Rather than the chaos that would have occurred with the immediate release of these prisoners, the legislature changed the laws (AB 109) wherein “non-violent, non-serious and non-sex” offenders were kept in the county jails rather than being sent to prison. At that time, Mendocino County contracted with me to develop a plan how to accomplish this task (the Community Corrections Partnership plan). This plan has worked well. The real problem occurred in 2014 with passage of Prop 47 (by the people, not the legislature) when the threshold for many crimes was raised, making some prior felonies now misdemeanors. So, in addition to the problem of ultra liberal legislators, we the people brought this on ourselves. I’m not confident the politicians will fix the problem. It will probably only occur when the people get fed up enough with crime to pass another Proposition changing the laws. Keep up the good work!”

Mr. Cardoza has succinctly captured both the legislative/legal history and consequences of the issue. Good people who consider themselves progressives or reformers argue that everyone needs a second chance to make good. Hard to dispute that argument. But the reality and tragedy of these changes is that it’s undeniable that some of these new laws and policies seriously undermine basic public safety as crime rates have soared. Citizens have become victims in the name of reforming punishment.

Cardoza, who is widely recognized as an experienced professional in the criminal justice system, provides insights that resonate with everything that Sheriff Matt Kendall has shared with me on this issue. Kendall’s takeaway is the only viable solution is for people to get involved politically to correct what’s gone wrong and restore balance to the system. It’s a problem that is going to work to solve.

I’ve heard it said that problems are the price you pay for progress. Well, I guess it’s time to start progressing.

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Ballot initiative would overhaul open records laws

Really, really good news today regarding the California Public Records Act.

As most of you know, I was successful this spring, working with Supe John Haschak, to get the County to rescind its blatantly illegal CPRA Ordinance.

While researching the issue back then, I found numerous flaws, loopholes and in some instances, gaping holes in the existing statute. I made some notes to myself about returning to these matters when I had some time, thinking that I would contact our state legislative reps and feel them out on sponsoring curative bills on open record laws.

It now appears that probably won’t be necessary.

Just heard from Consumer Watchdog— have always said they’re the best at looking out for the best interests of citizens— and they have filed “a new ballot initiative would overhaul California’s open records laws to combat government corruption and protect the health and well-being of Californians.”

According to Consumer Watchdog, the initiative, filed with the state Attorney General on Wednesday, “would strengthen California’s Public Records Act and the Legislative Open Records Act to make state government agencies more responsive to public requests for government documents and increase state legislators’ public reporting of meetings with lobbyists and investigations into their misconduct.”

The process requires the California Attorney General’s office to prepare a title and summary for the initiative. Once qualified for the ballot, the measure will appear on the November 2024 ballot.

According to Consumer Watchdog, he major provisions of the initiative include:

• Requiring legislators to disclose on their websites lobbying meetings, fundraising events, and public events paid for with public or campaign funds.

• Requiring that records relating to investigations into legislators’ misconduct be provided to the public upon request.

• Establishing standards to ensure government agencies conduct thorough searches for public records.

• Prohibiting agencies from deleting or destroying public records for a minimum of five years after a record is created.

• Requiring agencies to provide requested public records within 30 calendar days of a request.

• Providing that members of the public who sue public agencies to enforce the law have the same access to discovery as in any civil lawsuit, and making the appeal process less onerous on the public.

• Clarifying that the definition of public records includes documents maintained by private contractors and vendors relating to their work on behalf of the public.

• Limiting the ability of companies to file preemptive lawsuits to deny access to public records.

• Making available to the public communications and other records exchanged between government employees and entities outside of government about policy decisions, and limiting public agencies’ use of the attorney-client privilege and the attorney work product doctrine to bar access to public records.

• Requiring public agencies to publish annual reports that provide information about delays in access to public records.

For sure, I’ll keep you up-to-date on this development.

(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher,, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live:

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