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Editorial: It's a matter of public record

October 16, 2010

Costa Mesa Planning Commissioner Jim Righeimer was cleared last week of criminal wrongdoing after he got out of his car at a drunken driving checkpoint and questioned police officers for staging the operation on a weeknight during rush hour. We see no reason to disagree with the city attorney's finding — at least based on what we know about the case — because there is no law against a politician throwing his weight around.

Righeimer has a right to question public employees as long as he is not interfering with their ability to do their jobs. That does not mean we support his decision to question cops who were just following orders from above; we don't. But we do feel that citizens have the right to ask public employees questions and exercise free speech.

Our real problem with this latest development, however, is with City Hall and its reluctance to release details of the investigation to the public, which has a right to know how an appointed official and police officers behaved that evening. The folks involved, the theory goes, work for all of us, and we have a right to know how they performed on the job.

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We want to see the police and witness reports — just like most everyone else in town — and believe we would be able to gain access to such information in cases of a similar nature involving ordinary Joes and Janes.

In addition, this information could be particularly relevant to Costa Mesa voters, who need to decide whether they should vote for Righeimer for City Council on Nov. 2 or side with the Costa Mesa Police Assn., which is opposing his candidacy with such force that some of the tactics — a mobile billboard digging up old tax liens comes to mind — have pushed the boundaries of decency.

But the recent wrinkle in this saga doesn't look good for those who want transparency from their government. City Atty. Kim Barlow has said she cannot provide details of the investigation before getting permission from the council to disclose them.

We do not fault Barlow for keeping the confidences her position requires, but we do urge the council to give its attorney permission to release the information to its rightful owners — all of us.

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