RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT… Squid’s used sheltering in place to perfect Squid’s shrimp-flavored popcorn recipe, take long naps, scroll through Squid’s pal Flapjack the Octopus’ social media feeds back to when Flapjack was just a larvae, and submit California Public Records Actrequests to a bunch of local agencies.
One PRA request Squid sent – with help from a colleague who has opposable thumbs – was to the Monterey County Resources Management Agency, seeking all emails written by head honcho Carl Holm with words like “coronavirus,” “Covid-19,” “social distancing” and “shelter in place.” On May 4, Squid got back three dozen emails, mostly pretty mundane. There’s stuff about remote work and time cards, road closures, rules on short-term rentals.
There was an email sent on March 19, one day after shelter-in-place started, in which Holm reminds staff to abide: “If anyone asks you to give them space, I expect you to respect that request. Do not take it personally.”
But Squid knew Squid wasn’t getting all of the emails, because in a letter, the county noted that some records were exempt from the Public Records Act for reasons like attorney-client privilege – pretty standard stuff.
One weird exception that Squid had never seen before Gov. Code Section 6255(a), and states: “On the facts of this particular case, the public interest served by not disclosing specific records ‘clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record[s].’”
Squid’s limited nervous system perked up. What might be hiding behind 6255(a)?
Squid knows some octopuses who know some seals who know some humans who asked around, and Squid got to lay Squid’s eyes on two surprising emails from Holm. In one – sent in the week before the county’s shelter-in-place order was issued, but when the virus was still a very real threat – Holm scheduled a meeting for March 16, and advised attendees they’d have to show up in person: “‘Social distancing’ is a guideline not a rule,” he wrote.
Fast-forward to April 29, one day after the county’s new order requiring face coverings in public places took effect. “As a Health Order, the responsibility to comply lies with each individual, and it is evident that people have differing opinions if this is really necessary or not… Implementation is like driving the speed limit – it is unlawful to exceed the limit but people do,” Holm wrote to staff.
Wait, what? The speed limit is optional? In that case, Squid will spend the rest of shelter-in-place working on the old jalopy! But no, the thing that really makes Squid go hmm is the suggestion that it’s just a suggestion, not an order. If a county department head isn’t taking the county health officer’s order seriously, why should Squid?
Holm tells Squid’s colleague he didn’t mean it that way: “It may be an unfortunate way of wording it on my part.”