On Tuesday morning, I sent an email to three high-ranking officials at San Jose State University, requesting information about the executive compensation for former president Jon Whitmore and two key employees. By law, the school is required to disclose the information to the public. Within two hours, I received this accidental reply from Larry Carr, the college’s Associate Vice President of Public Affairs, “Anybody know who this guy is? Check out his website.”
Carr’s accidental reply shares insight into California State University’s media strategy and utter disdain for the public. San Jose State University has no explanation for why it provided bogus executive compensation data to the IRS for three consecutive years. But, as long as it’s not the Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci or the Associated Press’ Juliet Williams requesting the information, they know that they can delay, ignore, stonewall and deny.
Late Tuesday afternoon, I received Carr’s official statement: “I’ve requested the information you are looking for. However, it will not be possible to meet your deadline of 5:00 PM today. I expect to hear back tomorrow as to when the information will be available and I will let you know.” As of Thursday morning, I am still waiting on San Jose State University to respond to the public information request.
Government agencies shouldn’t treat public information requests differently based on who is asking.
San Jose State’s response is just one example of the systemic obfuscation by Cal State officials. On March 9, I asked Claudia Keith, assistant vice chancellor for public affairs in the Cal State Chancellor’s Office, for the compensation numbers for all 23 Cal State presidents and Chancellor Charles Reed. She replied, “The information is publicly available and included on 990 forms for each president and the chancellor that are posted on each campus website, as well as on the chancellor office website.”
Fine, I’m willing to sift through hundreds of pages of tax returns to find my answer. However, she lied: the Form 990s aren’t publicly available on every campus’s website. Cal State Fullerton is just one campus that hasn’t posted its most recent Form 990s for the college foundation. Nevertheless, I pressed on, this time asking the CSU Fullerton public affairs staff.
“Sorry, but by the time I got around to your email, the folks manning the office for the 990s were gone for the day. I’ll let you know tomorrow am as soon as I hear back from them,” replied Christopher Bugbee, a representative from Fullerton’s Office of Strategic Communications. “Questions 2-5 have to do with presidential compensation, which is set by the Chancellor’s Office and the CSU Board of Trustees. The CSU’s Chancellor’s Office is the office of record for that information.”
That’s right. The Chancellor’s Office sent me to Fullerton’s website, which didn’t have the information. In turn, Fullerton’s public affairs personnel sent me right back to the Chancellor’s Office. On March 15, I again asked Keith how much Chancellor Reed earned in total compensation. I never received an acknowledgement that the public information request was received.
Eventually, the CSU Fullerton university counsel’s office told me that the forms would be available — for a price. “The CSU charge is 20 cents per page irrespective of the format in which they are produced (see Cal. Govt. Code section 6253(b)), the cost of these documents is $8.20,” an assistant to the University Counsel at Cal State Fullerton wrote. “If you would still like the information forwarded to you directly, please send a check for $8.20 payable to California State University, Fullerton.”
Cal State officials are fully within their rights to charge for such information. Nevertheless, it demonstrates Cal State’s contempt for public disclosure and a purposeful and determined effort to hide executive compensation data from the public.
This piece is cross-posted from CalWatchdog.com.