Del Mar wins award for transparency

DEL MAR — When Del Mar’s park ranger pulled over an off-duty reserve deputy for using a cell phone while driving, it resulted in the officer’s dismissal from the Sheriff’s Department and the city temporarily suspending its body-camera procedures to ensure they complied with all laws.

It also earned Del Mar the San Diego Society of Professional Journalists’ inaugural Window Award, presented during a March 19 ceremony to the public official or agency that in 2014 most prioritized transparency and the public’s right to know.

Not knowing at the time that Scott Masters was a deputy, Ranger Adam Chase pulled him over in March 2014 after observing him talking on his phone while driving on Camino del Mar just south of Del Mar Heights Road.

In response to a California Public Records Act request the city released a 10-minute video that was recorded on Chase’s body camera, which is attached prominently on his shoulder.

The footage shows Masters angry and in an expletive-laden conversation telling Chase numerous times that the park ranger has no authority to make traffic stops.

According to one nomination for the SPJ awards, “one request submitted and the footage was released.”

“The city of Del Mar strives to be transparent in our operations,” City Manager Scott Huth said. “The amount of public requests for information has exploded over the last year, and I know responding to these requests have required a lot of staff time.”

Huth said a lot of city information is posted on the website.

Until the public records request, Del Mar “did not have a formal adopted procedure in place through our city attorney of how to use the body camera,”                Huth said.

Chase had been using an industry-standard procedure, he added.

In September, realizing “there was a need to do some further research into our procedures,” Huth said, Del Mar temporarily discontinued the body camera program, which had been in place since 2012.

It was reinstated in December.

In contrast, the Wall Award, for the public official or agency that most ignored media requests or otherwise compromised the public’s right to know, went to the San Diego Police Department for its body-camera policy.

“The SDPD repeatedly told the public that getting police body cameras would increase public trust and add transparency,” the SPJ wrote to explain the nomination. “But instead, Chief Shelley Zimmerman has publicly said she won’t release most of the footage to the public and that if she did, it would be at her discretion. That doesn’t seem to jibe with the public records law and runs counter to what the public believes body cameras do: Provide a record of what happened.”

Other Window Award nominees were San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey and journalist Mike Lee.

Kersey was chosen for showing “leadership on San Diego’s open data policy, from conception to approval by the City Council in December.”

Lee was nominated for his role as public affairs and media relations representative for the San Diego County Water Authority.

“He’s quick on the return phone call and email, he lines up the right people for interviews, and he turns over relevant reports and data on the county’s water history without prompting,” the SPJ nomination states.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and former newspaper writer Gerry Braun were the other two Wall Award nominees.

Dumanis made the list for her reluctance to release a college letter of recommendation she wrote for the son of a campaign contributor involved in a campaign finance scandal.

Braun was nominated for his role as spokesman and interim chief executive officer for Balboa Park Celebration, a city funded nonprofit that received $3 million for a centennial party for Balboa Park that was never held.

According to the SPJ nomination, Braun “resisted opening contracts, letters and other documents to public inspection.”

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