Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates criticizes former mayor’s large Public Records Act request

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In a move that Mayor Tom Bates wrote left him “flabbergasted,” former mayor Shirley Dean filed a substantial California Public Records Act request to the city of Berkeley last month, which may include half a million documents.

Dean, who was the mayor from 1994 to 2002 and lost the seat to Bates, was seeking records related to all appointments involving the mayor and the council members for the last five and a half years, according to an op-ed Bates wrote for Berkeleyside. These include any emails and correspondence “that are relative to appointments, including those seeking, confirming, mentioning and discussing appointments in any way.”

Dean said that her request is reasonable and that “these are public records and should be readily available when requested.” She did not give a reason for making the request.

“By law, I don’t have to say what the purpose was, and I’m not going to,” Dean said.

Bates, in the same op-ed, said that the number of records the city must provide Dean will approach half a million, “if not one million,” and that the request “goes beyond harassment and seems headed toward sabotage of City operations.”

Bates could not be reached for comment, as he is currently traveling abroad. He ended the op-ed by requesting that Dean withdraw her request and submit a new one that is more “focused and reasonable.”

Bates’ assistant Charles Burress also criticized the request, calling it “inappropriate” and saying it can damage city operations by taking up so much time to complete.

Despite the size of the request, the city is legally obliged to fulfill it, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko.

“It is not optional,” Chakko said. “Regardless of the impact, we will comply.”

Dean admitted that the request is substantial but said that if the city found it excessive, it could have contacted her. She has not been contacted by the city, aside from a single email telling her that the request will take longer than 10 days to fulfill, she said.

Dean added that she is “willing to have a conversation” and that she is “not running around trying to think of a request to sabotage city operations.”

City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said that Dean has the right to make these requests and that city officials’ appointment calendars should be made public to begin with. Two years ago, Arreguin introduced a measure that would have required public calendars, but the measure did not get enough votes. He tried again last year, and the measure is being worked on by a city committee.

Although Arreguin agrees with Bates that the request could be more focused, he said it is still doable, especially because the council members are currently in recess until September.

Contact Natchapol Praditpetchara at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @natchapolp.