CVIndependent

Wed12132017

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

On this week's trickle-down weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson watches in horror as Soylent Greenbacks are made; The K Chronicles brings us a classic featuring a doll named Wilbur; This Modern World peeks in at the Stupidverse; Red Meat makes holiday plans with Wally; and Apoca Clips checks in with Trumpy regarding sexual harassment.

Published in Comics

With a declaration that “public servants best serve the citizenry when they can be candid and honest without reservation in conducting the people’s business,” lawmakers passed the California Whistleblower Protection Act in 1999.

The idea was to protect workers who report misconduct, so that they can blow the whistle on bad actors without losing their jobs. The bill at that time covered workers at state agencies and California’s two public university systems. Lawmakers expanded it in 2010 to cover employees of the state’s courts.

But one group of California government workers has never had whistleblower protection under the law: those who work for the lawmakers themselves. It’s an example of how the Legislature sometimes imposes laws on other people that it doesn’t adhere to itself.

“Lawmakers make laws that affect all of us, including them, and they are softening the blow of regulations for themselves,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School who chairs the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

“It feels like double talk.”

The Legislature’s exemption from the Whistleblower Protection Act has garnered attention in recent weeks, as a groundswell of women complaining of pervasive sexual harassment in the state Capitol have publicly called for such protections for legislative employees.

But the whistleblower act isn’t the only area of the law in which the Legislature has demonstrated a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality:

Public records: Want to know whom government officials are meeting with, talking to or emailing? Or how officials were disciplined after an investigation found them culpable of wrongdoing?

State agencies and local governments must release such information—calendars, emails and disciplinary records—under the California Public Records Act, which the Legislature created in 1968. But the same information is nearly impossible to get from state lawmakers, because the Public Records Act does not apply to the Legislature.

Instead, lawmakers are covered by the Legislative Open Records Act, which they passed in 1975 in the wake of the Watergate scandal. The act that applies to them is riddled with exceptions, effectively keeping secret many documents that other branches of government must disclose.

“The Legislature has created in many areas a black box where the public can’t see records it would be entitled to see if the public officials at issue weren’t in the Legislature,” said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a nonprofit organization advocating government transparency.

The Legislature’s open-records law allows it to withhold investigations of wrongdoing, even when they led to disciplinary action. It also keeps secret correspondence by lawmakers and their staff, as well as officials’ calendars. The Legislature even refused to give reporters the calendars of two senators undergoing federal prosecution on corruption charges—until media companies sued and won a court order compelling their release.

Another difference: As more government agencies began storing information electronically, the Legislature updated the Public Records Act in 2000 to compel disclosure of digital records. Now state agencies and local governments must provide public records in any format in which they exist. That gives the public access to electronic records, such as databases, in their original digital format.

But the Legislature has never made the same update to its own open-records act. "It was a non-starter," former Assemblyman Kevin Shelley told The Sacramento Bee in 2015.

Open meetings: The idea that government meetings should be open to the public, and designed to welcome public input, has been enshrined in California law for more than 60 years. In 1953, the Legislature passed the open-meeting law that applies to local governments, and in 1967, it passed a similar one for state agencies.

Yet the 1973 law it passed requiring open meetings of the Legislature does not follow the same rules. One major difference: It allows legislators to gather secretly in partisan caucuses.

When contentious issues hit the floor of the Assembly or the Senate, it’s common for one political party or the other to pause proceedings and call for a caucus. Legislators file out of the chamber and into two private meeting rooms where Democrats and Republicans separately gather for conversations that exclude the public and the press. They can hash out disagreements or craft strategy behind closed doors, then return to the chamber to publicly cast their votes.

Local governments, such as city councils, cannot do this. With a few limited exceptions, state law forbids a majority of a local board from gathering privately—precisely because it shuts the public out of the decision-making process.  

“I always remember county supervisors being rankled,” said Peter Detwiler, a retired long-time staffer to the state Senate’s local government committee. “‘You guys put these rules on us and you don’t ever put rules like that on yourself.’”

The same laws also slow down decision-making by local governments and state agencies so that the public can weigh in. Local governments must give at least three days of notice before taking action, while state agencies have to post agendas 10 days in advance.

Legislators, until this year, did not have the same constraints. Though most bills go through a months-long process of public deliberations, a handful of bills each session were written just hours before lawmakers cast votes on them, leaving the public no time to offer their input. Democrats who control the Legislature said the last-minute lawmaking allowed them to put together sensitive compromises that could have blown up with more public scrutiny.

But voters grew frustrated with the secrecy. A Republican donor worked with nonpartisan good-government groups to put Proposition 54 on last year’s ballot, requiring that bills be written and posted online for at least three days before lawmakers can vote on them. The result: Voters put a rule on legislators that the politicians wouldn’t put on themselves.

Out of state travel: With culture wars raging nationally over transgender rights, California’s liberal Legislature last year passed a law banning state-funded travel to states with laws that discriminate against gay or transgender people. Eight states are now on California’s no-go list. Some have laws that could forbid LGBT people from adopting children, or exclude gay students from some school clubs; others have banned anti-discrimination policies that would allow transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their identity.

Yet while legislators have banned state-sponsored travel to Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas, they haven’t stopped traveling to those places themselves. In June, Democratic Sen. Ricardo Lara traveled to Texas for a conference of Latino government officials. Soon after, Democratic Sen. Bob Hertzberg went to Kentucky to study the state’s bail system.

Hertzberg was working on legislation to overhaul bail in California, and “felt it critical to observe first-hand the impact of bail reform in (Kentucky), which has a very well-established system of pretrial release,” his then-chief of staff, Diane Griffiths, wrote in an email.

The travel-ban bill does not exempt lawmakers—a late amendment actually specifies that it also applies to the Legislature—so how are these trips taking place? Lawmakers are getting around the law by using campaign funds, not tax dollars, to pay for them.

The Legislature’s leaders declined to defend the exemptions, but in the past, lawmakers have contended that they are justified because of the unique role of a law-making body and the need to protect legislators’ security. As far as critics are concerned, legislators get away with making exceptions for themselves because they know their hypocrisy won’t attract enough notice to generate mass outrage.

Right now, there’s plenty of attention on the Legislature over its policies for dealing with sexual harassment—and some debate about whether extending the whistleblower act would help remedy the problem.

As is, the Legislature has internal personnel policies that forbid retaliation, and legislative employees are also covered by a different state law that prohibits retaliation for complaining about discrimination or harassment. But the whistleblower act goes even further, laying out a process for workers to confidentially file complaints to the independent state auditor.

Lawmakers will yet again consider a bill giving whistleblower protection to legislative staff when they return to Sacramento next year. GOP Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez of Lake Elsinore plans to re-introduce a measure that has stalled in the past. And—in a nod to some who say her bill wouldn’t apply to employees reporting sexual harassment—she said she’ll add language explicitly stating that it does.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

Last week, I received a review link to Louis C.K.’s new film, I Love You, Daddy, along with a message saying that Louis C.K. was available for interviews. I also got a form that, among other things, asked about my reaction to the movie.

I was a little peeved that my reaction to the film was needed before granting an interview … but that’s no big deal. A lot of media outlets would be interested in talking to C.K.—and, as a long-standing, rabid Louis C.K. fan, I figured the movie would be great, right?

Wrong. This is easily the worst thing C.K. has done since Pootie Tang. Not only is it a bad movie on a purely technical level; its subject matter is, as you may already know, a bit suspect.

For the past couple of years, I’d read about “rumors” of C.K.’s demented sexual proclivities. Unfortunately, this weird-as-all-fuck movie seems to be a sort of strange confession regarding his messed-up mistreatment of female colleagues and fans.

Even worse, I Love You, Daddy, seems to give the finger to people who take issue with artists who do stupid and arguably criminal things—as if those people taking issue are shallow for not separating art from a person’s bad behavior. The film has a creepy, odd vibe to it … and again, it’s just not very good.

After watching the movie, I sent the distributor a note saying I did not like the film, and I withdrew myself from consideration to interview C.K.

A few hours later, The New York Times story about Louis C.K.’s sexual wrongdoing dropped; that was followed shortly thereafter by C.K.’s half-assed apology. That mistreatment of female colleagues and fans has been confirmed, and now nobody will be interviewing Louis C.K. or seeing this shitty movie anytime soon.

C.K. self-funded and directed the movie, so nobody could tell him what he could and could not put into it. Man, does that show. One of those pesky studios would’ve told him the movie looked like crap and featured questionable subjects. He shot it on black-and-white, 35 mm film, quickly and cheaply. It looks washed out and poorly constructed.

This black-and-white “art” film is, in part, an homage to Woody Allen’s Manhattan, which makes things even more troubling. It features an older director who is notorious for sleeping with underage girls; the character, played by John Malkovich, is clearly modeled after Allen. C.K. plays a famous TV producer who deeply admires the director’s work—but his fandom is called into question when said director takes an interest in his 17-year-old daughter, China, played by Chloe Grace Moretz.

The movie actually features a character (played by Charlie Day) who, at one point, mimics vigorous masturbation while C.K talks to a woman on speaker phone. In other words, this insane movie includes a slapstick depiction of one of the vile things C.K. was accused of doing. That takes balls. Giant, depraved balls.

This was also supposed to be C.K.’s modern statement on feminism, but plays more like straight-up misogyny. It’s sad to see Moretz, Edie Falco and Rose Byrne virtually humiliated. As for Woody Allen, the movie clearly wants people to stop denouncing C.K.’s pervert idol and Blue Jasmine boss.

It was on what was supposed to be the day of the film’s premiere that C.K. wound up issuing a public sort-of apology to the women cited in the Times story. It’s hard to take that apology seriously after seeing the contents of this film, which he was trying to get released up until the moment he issued that statement.

David Bowie made his last album knowing he was going to die, and it was beautiful. C.K. made what might be his last film perhaps knowing he was doomed. Or, horrifyingly, perhaps he made it thinking he was bulletproof. In either case, I Love You, Daddy, is disgusting and stupid, and it will not be playing at a theater near you.

Published in Reviews

On this week's Pride-tinged weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson looks at our sexual-harassment culture; The K Chronicles gets awkward with pumpkin spice; This Modern World fears that everything is terrible; Red Meat finds a way to keep meal costs down; and Apoca Clips uses the Zoltweet 2000.

Published in Comics

On this week's pumpkin-spice-free weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips gets its dossiers mixed up; Red Meat hops in the time machine with Milkman Dan; Jen Sorenson looks at "politicization"; The K Chronicles has a revelation about squirrels; and This Modern World is in a state of denial.

Published in Comics

On this week's stunningly delightful weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson invites you to choose your own sexual-harassment adventure; The K Chronicles finds similarities between a famous cartoon character and a child; This Modern World fills in a citizen regarding the last month's insanity; Red Meat fears more layoffs are on the way; and Apoca Clips listens to Trumpy ramble on and on.

Published in Comics

On this week's strictly constitutional weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson throws around the term "political correctness"; The K Chronicles listens to some advice from Clint Eastwood; This Modern World eavesdrops on a chat between two millennials; and Red Meat interrupts God at a most inopportune time.

Published in Comics

On June 21, a new petition surfaced on the White House’s website. In large bold letters, it reads: “Fire National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis. We deserve a director who will uphold the agency's integrity.”

During its centennial year, the agency has fallen under increased scrutiny for not taking swifter action to address a culture of sexual harassment and employee misconduct. The petition was started by a group of recreation and environmental activists in the San Francisco Bay Area and launched a week after members of Congress on the House Committee on Oversight and Congressional Reform grilled Jarvis for failing to take enough steps to stop sexual harassment and hostile working conditions that female employees faced in the Grand Canyon, Florida’s Canaveral National Seashore and other parks.

Last month, the Department of Interior’s Office of Inspector General released a report documenting a pattern of harassment at Canaveral, such as unwanted sexual advances and inappropriate comments by a supervisor. As the Park Service’s second sexual harassment investigation in six months, it prompted the House Oversight and Congressional Reform Committee hearing on June 14. The committee condemned Jarvis for not firing perpetrators and for not following through with disciplinary actions the agency outlined in response to the year’s first investigation of sexual harassment, which was released in January and focused on the Grand Canyon.

“Discipline and punishment is one thing; hand-slapping is another,” Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., said during the hearing. “I would hardly call what’s taking place discipline.”

Jarvis said he had formed a committee of high-level executives to handle the issue. He dismissed the idea that the agency wasn’t taking women’s reports seriously. He also said that firing a federal worker is nearly impossible, which is part of the problem.

“I don’t believe it’s fear; I believe (victims) don’t think action will be taken,” Jarvis said in the hearing. “I appreciate the reports from the Office of Inspector General, and (with) the actions we are going to take and are taking, we are going to see more reporting.”

After the January Grand Canyon report, the Park Service vowed to run a survey to determine how widespread the sexual-harassment problem is. According to Jeff Olson, the agency’s public affairs officer, they are in the process of finding companies to run the survey, and it should be out to employees by the end of September.

Matt Elliott, assistant inspector general for investigations for the Office of Inspector General, says that after these two high-profile investigations, the office will continue to keep a close eye on these issue in all of its agencies, and will be more mindful of looking out for patterns.

Responsibility for disciplinary actions following the Grand Canyon investigation falls to the intermountain regional director Sue Masica, who reports, like all other regional directors, to Deputy Director Peggy O’Dell. But O’Dell,who was also on a task force in 1999 to improve conditions for women in law enforcement, recently announced she will retire at the end of July after 37 years in the agency, Olson confirmed. (O’Dell could not be reached for comment.)

After the hearing, Hice and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, called for Jarvis’ ousting.

“My role in the committee is to alleviate some of the frustrations Americans experience by getting to the root of the problem and removing waste, fraud and abuse inside federal agencies,” Hice said in an email. “Oftentimes, it starts with the head of the agency.”

As of July 12, the petition had less than 900 signatures. That means it won’t likely come near the 100,000 needed for President Barack Obama to respond—but that’s not the point, says the petition’s creator, David Emanuel, of Save Our Recreation, a Bay Area advocacy group. “It’s a signal to Congress that there is a grassroots effort. People are aware and angry.”

The uproar regarding Jarvis is the second time this year Congress has stepped in on the issue of sexual harassment in the Park Service this year. In April, Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., and others called for reform in the agency, though not focusing on Jarvis. “What I want to see is institutional and cultural change within the National Park Service,” Gallego said recently. “If we stop seeing forward momentum, we’d have to revisit this.” He also added that he is drafting an amendment to the Department of Interior appropriations bill to direct the secretary not to rehire employees who were disciplined for harassment.

As the Obama administration nears the end of its term, many former and current park employees have voiced concern that the efforts to change the culture of gender bias and sexual harassment in the agency will fade away, as they did in the early 2000s during the transition to the Bush administration. But Gallego said that’s not going to happen.

“I’m 36, and I’m going to be in Congress for 20 years, and Grand Canyon is in my state,” he said. “So the issue is not going to be dropped.”

In the last six months, High Country News has received more than 40 letters from women and men working in federal parks, forests and lands, explaining personal experiences of sexual harassment, gender bias, assault and retaliation in the workplace.If you are a federal public land employee and would like to report your own experience with sexual harassment, please fill out High Country News’ confidential tip form.

Elizabeth Shogren contributed to this article, which originally appeared in High Country News.

Published in Environment

On this week's classist Independent comics page: Red Meat prepares for a festive school carnival; Jen Sorenson examines complaints about hyperinflation on luxury items; The K Chronicles pays homage to pro wrestling; and This Modern World ponders sexual harassment.

Published in Comics