By Eric Heinz
San Clemente resident Jim Bieber filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court demanding the release of records from private accounts of City Manager James Makshanoff, City Clerk Joanne Baade, City Council members Chris Hamm and Tim Brown, and from Mayor Kathy Ward.
The emails Bieber is seeking are related to Measure OO, a local ballot measure that would have raised transient occupancy tax (or hotel tax) from 10 to 13 percent. It failed by eight votes in the November election. Following the measure’s failure, the city wanted to pay to have a recount of the election, but was later informed by the Orange County Registrar of Voters that wouldn’t be possible for City Council to do on its own.
Bieber wants the court to issue a statement that those mentioned in the lawsuit violated the state’s Public Records Act, to issue a ruling that they search their private accounts to disclose any other emails related to public interest and to issue an injunction that no elected official use their private email to conduct business.
Bieber’s lawsuit was filed a day after the California Supreme Court ruled that private email accounts of public officials are open to records requests if they pertain to public business.
City Attorney Scott Smith said the city intends to release the emails per the lawsuit’s request and would have done so had another records request been filed.
According to the letter to justify the withholding, the emails were withheld because they could “disrupt future deliberations” and attributed case law to the decision. Bieber said there are at least two emails that were kept from public view unlawfully.
Council member Tim Brown said this is a distraction to city business.
“We’re 100 percent focused on running the city and not worried about his (Bieber’s) petty political grievances,” Brown said.