There's one big question about the whole brouhaha over Sheriff Bob Brooks' contacts database, the one that he fired Geoff Dean for asking about (or trying to steal, depending on whom you believe): Just what's in that database?
We don't want to leave any questions unanswered, so we've posted the entire database online. Just go to this article
and click on the link under "documents," on the upper left-hand side of the page.
The file is pretty much just what Brooks says it is: an electronic Rolodex, a long list (331 pages) of everybody who's passed the sheriff a business card during his career. There are a lot of blanks, because the sheriff's office redacted some of the contact information and a few of the names, for purposes of security and confidentiality (for example, some of the sheriff's contacts might be people who do undercover police work).
The database would certainly be useful to someone who wanted to run for sheriff -- otherwise, Dean wouldn't have been interested in it. But it doesn't appear to be a fundraising database. There's nothing in it that notes anyone's political leanings or campaign donations.
I asked the sheriff's office for the database last year, after I read the Civil Service Commission report on Dean's alleged attempts to access it. I cited the California Public Records Act, which guarantees public access to government records unless they fall into a few well-defined exemptions. By complying with my request, the sheriff seemed to admit that the database was indeed a public record.
So, if it was public, why was Geoff Dean disciplined for asking about it? Couldn't he have just filed his own public records request?
I'm not entirely certain, but there are a few possible answers. First, if Dean had gotten the version of the database that the sheriff gave us, it would have been missing a lot of valuable information (the names and phone numbers that were redacted).
Second, perhaps Brooks would have had to comply with a public records request and given Dean the database, but the sheriff still could have disciplined Dean for asking. Dean was a chief deputy at the time, which means he was essentially a political appointee, serving at the pleasure of the sheriff. Civil service rules don't protect his right to be a chief deputy -- which is why the Civil Service Commission couldn't order Brooks to bring Dean back at that rank. Instead, he was rehired as a commander, which is a civil service-protected position.