Claremont Insider: Deconstructing Claremont

Friday, October 5, 2007

Deconstructing Claremont

Crediblity Gap

The city of Claremont's credibility took a big hit with yesterday's revelation in the Daily Bulletin regarding the true nature of Claremont City Attorney Sonia Carvalho's September 7th complaint letter to Google about our blog. It seems clear now why the city was so reluctant to release the letter.

The letter, seen here, contained several misrepresentations by Carvalho.

First, Carvalho makes the claim to Google that the material in question, images of 283 city employee pay stubs, contains private employee information. Carvalho goes on to quote Google's policy regarding the release of private and confidential information:

PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION: We do not allow the unauthorized publishing of people's private and confidential information, such as credit card numbers, Social Security Numbers, and driver's and other license numbers.

But the pay stubs contain no credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, or driver's and other license numbers. The ones we posted also did not contain any bank routing numbers, as the city has claimed. No dates of birth, personal phone numbers, or home or email addresses either.

We sent the Bulletin a CD-ROM with the same information, and the experts they consulted found there little reason to believe the city's claim that the material was private, especially in light of an August 23rd California Supreme Court decision making public employee salary and benefit information public.

More Lies

The other big lie contained in the letter is Carvalho's false claim to Google that the material was stolen. It was there on the city's website in their now-disabled public, on-line archive for anyone with an Internet connection to view and download. Carvalho, though, uses the terms "illegal" and "private and confidential" to try to bully Google the same way she, her firm, and the city of Claremont have bullied individual citizens for decades.

The most damning part of the letter is Carvalho's threat to Google that if they did not shut down our blog completely by 5:00 pm PST on Friday, September 7th, the city would be in court the following Monday, September 10th, to seek an injunction against Google ordering them to remove our blog.

When Google did not shut down the Insider, Carvalho failed to follow up on her threat. She did not show up in court the following Monday to seek injunctive relief. She just faded into that good night, as she should have.

The Claremont Shuffle

If you've followed the pay stub issue, you can see how it's evolved:
  • City wrongly claims the pay stubs are covered by privacy law. Google responds by pulling the post. The Insider responds by emailing Google to ask what exactly is confidential in the pay stubs given present California law.

  • Google then says that it is not a privacy issue at all. The pay stubs are copyrighted. The Insider responds to Google by saying that government forms are not copyrightable. Google fails to answer.

  • The city attorney and City Manager Jeff Parker begin backpedaling. No, we only asked Google to remove the material with private information. The letter, though, shows the city demanded that this blog be shut down completely - obliterated from memory (must be those negative Village restaurant reviews we linked to).

  • The city backs off the theft charges in a more softly worded press release. Oh, we're looking into it. We'll get back to you. And then they shut down the city's on-line archive.

    (The obvious question is, Why shut it down if the pay stubs aren't there, as the city claims?)

    At the same time, the city continues to claim that the pay stubs contained private information, even though the Bulletin questioned that claim.

    And at no point does the city ever say exactly what information in pay stubs is private. They just continue to throw out the phrase "private and confidential" like a mantra, hoping that if they say it enough it will be true.

    And in the past, for them it worked.

  • The Bulletin asks for Carvalho's complaint letter to Google. Carvalho refuses, citing attorney-client privilege. The privilege does not apply because the letter was between her and a third-party (Google) not her client.

    Carvalho's fall back position? Oh, it's not attorney-client privilege. The letter was my work product, so it's covered by that privilege. Yes, that's the ticket. Yeah....

The gift of Carvalho's letter is that it's there for all to see. This is what has happened in every crisis or misstep in the city's recent history. The city commits a mistake, shoots itself in the foot trying squash the voices pointing out mistakes or voices simply trying to offer ideas other than the predetermined ones the Claremont 400 has force fed the public, then the city spends tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal and public relations fees trying to stop the bleeding.

One argument doesn't work? Never admit you're wrong. Just switch arguments: attorney-client work product theft privacy copyright. The public's too stupid to figure it out - or so they think.

To which we answer, res ipsa loquitur, the thing speaks for itself.

If anything, this shows that the city and city attorney will resort to the worst sorts of lies and misrepresentations in order to falsely make their case. They do so because they have the decision-making power through the city council and through their city commissions, and because they have the legal power and the power of an unlimited legal expense account to bully even companies like Google.

This entire Paystubgate affair illustrates perfectly that true nature of our town's darker side. Thank you, Sonia Carvalho, for what may be the first true public service you have offered the citizens of Claremont.