A government that doesn't write things down is no government at all.
Spend enough time around people like Tony Anziano, who was the Caltrans bureaucrat in charge of finishing, finally, the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, and it really should be no surprise that he's accused of telling engineers not to document their concerns about the span's integrity during the rush to complete it.
When one reaches the rarefied air Anziano and others at the top tiers of California government breathe, how can we blame them for not caring about the rest of us?
It isn't their money that might well be needed for costly repairs to faulty welds. And it probably won't be them who could face the horror of a catastrophic failure of the span. The more likely victims would the be the everyday users of the bridge.
But Anziano did have one fear as he pushed to complete a boondoggle of a public project, according to testimony at the state Senate hearing last month: public records requests.
Why did he want engineers not to document their concerns? Because in doing so they would be creating records that would be released to the public. Oh the plague that would be. People might learn what was really going on.
Given what went down in at a Senate hearing last month, one could almost picture Anziano, a tin pot on his head, pitching engineers' clipboards over the edge of the bridge and into the Bay like a ship's captain jettisoning provisions in the midst of a typhoon.
Ordering dissenting engineers not to report in writing concerns over the bridge safety was "deliberate and willful" act to avoid disclosure, transportation committee chairman Sen. Mark DeSaulnier told Anziano. When Anziano denied that, DeSaulnier said: "I don't believe you."
One might think that Anziano's order to simply not create records was just a line out a song once sung in duet by Bruce Springsteen and the late Warren Zevon called "Disorder in The House." "The less you know, the better off you'll be."
But that would put us back to thinking that Anziano had the public in mind.
And over the decades it took California to replace the eastern span after the 1989 Loma Perata earthquake, it has become abundantly clear that the one set of folks those in charge of the project haven't given a damn about is bridge users.
Fault lies with both Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, especially, which pushed for years to make meetings of bodies charged with the key decisions about the bridge private.
The MTC, as it's known, has a well-earned reputation for a lack of transparency. The entire notion of conducting meetings in private -- not executive sessions but entirely private meetings to decide public business -- is indicative of a culture gone badly awry. The excuse of its executive director, Steven Heminger, that since most of the those meetings involve negotiations that would take place in executive session anyway there's no sense in having public meetings in the first place, is just a cop-out.
Government simply can't work in private. At least public meetings require agendas, minutes, reports of what happened in close session.
There is only one reason why the Hemingers of the world insist on private meetings to do public business and it's because government in California is dominated by the self-interested.
Intellectual honesty is just not a good quality for a bureaucrat.
It isn't a great attribute for a politician, either, especially one in California, where being openly critical of government workers is the third rail of politics. DeSaulnier said he didn't believe Anziano. He's yet to publicly suggest a formal method of holding him accountable, such as an internal investigation that could lead to discipline or firing. Given that DeSaulnier is now running for Congress, it would be surprising if he did.
At least a small crack into the inner workings of the self-interested has been exposed. Anziano certainly isn't the only person in California governments to order things not written down to avoid the release of public records that might dispute the company line, whether it's an honest one or not.
He's just the one who ought to be held accountable for it.
Thomas Peele is an investigative reporter for this newspaper and teaches public records and data reporting at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.