As you read this editorial, Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten’s office is poring over thousands of documents taken abruptly from Oxnard City Hall.
Totten hasn’t spelled out exactly what he and federal officials are investigating, but it’s likely that the document search is part of an investigation into whether Oxnard officials broke the law in handing out city contracts, including those for public works projects. The city’s former public works director has admitted to failing to disclose gifts from contractors with business before the city.
The city says it is cooperating with the probe; Totten says he would not have seized the documents if the city had been fully cooperative at an earlier date.
Until a few weeks ago, we might have shrugged our shoulders about a jurisdictional dispute over documents between a municipal government and a district attorney who likes to do things by the book.
But life changed for all elected officials when the Los Angeles Times broke the story about sky-high municipal salaries in the city of Bell. To his credit, Totten specifically ruled out Bell-like abuses in public pay in his Oxnard probe.
But in the post-Bell era, public officials face increased scrutiny. That means nothing less than full transparency should be the standard.
Oxnard is the region’s largest city and it needs to lead by example — both in the professional conduct of its staff and its willingness to make documents available, either to the public at large or to investigators who are looking out for the public interest.