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My favorite activity of all time—better than playing hide and seek with blind orphans, better than tickling puppies until they giggle rainbows—is tossing back a six-pack of Red Bull and playing a few rounds of 20 Questions. It’s like basketball, but with less exercise and fewer jockstraps. Or chess with fewer brain cells.

The key to a good game of 20 Questions is to toss logic by the wayside. You have to embrace the unexpected, abandon rules and reason, and bob when they expect you to weave. City employees, of course, are great at this game:


“Which administrator for the Paso Robles police department is on paid leave?”


“OK … how much have you paid the administrator while he or she was on leave?”

“Zebra fungus!!!”

OK, guys, you know the rules. The purpose behind public records is to make them, well, public so there’s a record of shenanigans played out by public employees and institutions. Which we usually wind up hearing about anyway—the shenanigans, I mean—even if in the end it’s some sort of mutant hybrid of what actually happened.

But the city doesn’t make the quest for the truth any easier. In fact, most recently, Paso Robles city employees and attorneys have thrown as many wrenches into our truth-quest machinery as they possibly could. Which is ridiculous because, as any public employee with a few skeletons in the closet will tell you, the truth will out. It’s just a question of whether it’s grounded in fact or a more bastardized version of truth mired in unsubstantiated rumors and innuendo. Personally, I’ve always favored the latter.

Print any ol’ juicy rumor that comes along? Yes, please. Unfortunately, my editors keep insisting that’s not the New Times way. Which sucks, because the high road—confirming rumors, and double-checking our facts—means spending an unnecessary amount of time fighting with Paso Robles over allegedly “public” records.

You’ve probably heard that Paso Robles Police Chief Lisa Solomon is at the heart of a scandal sleazy enough to make Larry Flint blush. It’s all out there now, in some form or another. I’m not really concerned about getting beat to a story. It comes with the job, along with stress ulcers and a bar tab that could rival a Goldman Sachs paycheck.

But during the month or so the city spent doing its impression of Mitt Romney hemming and hawing over releasing his tax information, it started to become really clear who this city is really protecting. And it sure as hell isn’t the public.

You’d think that the whackadoo hijinks of a cop would be fair game for public scrutiny. They’re public employees—supposedly—but somehow, when you’re dealing with a police officer, the already high bar gets raised significantly higher until it’s nearly impossible to access information about the people we pay to stalk our streets with guns. Which seems somehow backward because I’m considerably more concerned about the person carrying a deadly weapon than the city accountant whose most recent controversy was the case of the missing Post-it-notes.

Here’s how the battle with the bureaucratic chumps in Paso Robles went down:

We received several tips about some really inappropriate crap going down in the police department and a private investigative team brought in on a damage-control mission. So we go on a fact-finding mission.

New Times has thus far sent 32 public records requests to the city. The response we got back was essentially a middle finger stuck right up our nose.

Because if you’re a cop, the normal rules don’t apply to you. Due to the fact that our Legislature has the testicular fortitude of a neutered teacup poodle, cops get special exemptions from public records requests. In other words, they don’t have to say nothing about no one.

It’s called a peace officer exemption, and it’s Grade A legislative garbage. What it all amounts to is a Himalayan-sized blockade to information about the people we should probably know the most about.

To date, Paso Robles has denied essentially every public records request we’ve sent. What we do know is that the city paid someone $17,732 in administrative leave. We just don’t know who, because the city won’t say.

    My response to this is, in short: bullshit, Paso. My calmer, more rational response is: Just be honest. When the public hears that its police chief and perhaps several top officers in the department could be facing sanctions for potentially reprehensible behavior, the public just wants to know the truth.

So with a looming scandal that’s likely to be dubbed Pasogate—anyone wanna make a Deep Throat joke?—is the city finally taking the public’s concern about its chief seriously? Nah. But they are taking pay raises.

City Manager Jim App, for example, has deferred all of his pay increases since 2007, but that won’t stop him from cashing in this July. Despite Paso’s Swiss cheese budget situation, App is slated to rake in another $24,000 per year, which will bump his base salary to $179,541. That’s one year’s income for you private sector workers.

Now, I haven’t seen a raise since I don’t know when, but I was under the impression that raises indicated a job well done. The captain of the Titanic likely wasn’t offered a salary bump as his vessel sank slowly into the Atlantic Ocean, killing the majority of its passengers. Then again, if you define a city employee’s purpose as protecting other city employees from legitimate public scrutiny, then I’d have to say, “Job well done!” ∆


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