DISCOVERY BAY -- Starting in May, residents no longer will have the option of paying for town services, including public records requests, with cash.
The Discovery Bay Community Services District board voted this week to ban cash transactions for all services, including water bills and park reservations.
Board members said the new policy will ensure the safety of town clerks and save the district time and money, but some say it is also a response to anonymous requests for public records the town has received. Those requesting records anonymously have been using cash to pay for the cost of copying the documents.
Resident Don Flint, who is often critical of the board, noted that the district began receiving anonymous records requests last fall -- it has so far received four -- and charged that the board was attempting to limit access to public information.
"I'm troubled that the board takes steps to limit people's access to records," he said. "I think that you guys are overstepping if not the letter then the spirit of the law."
Directors Mark Simon, Chris Steele and Kevin Graves said the new policy is not a response to these anonymous requests. The presence of cash at town offices might endanger staff by attracting thieves, the directors said, though they acknowledged that this has never happened.
The directors also cited the staff time the district spends bringing cash payments to the local bank.
"The main concern is the safety of our employees and the second is the efficiency with which we do our jobs," Graves said.
But former director David Piepho, who retired from the board in December, a month after the no-cash policy was introduced, says the change was designed to put an end to anonymous requests, which he believes are inappropriate.
"You'll find that a lot of the rules that the CSD deals with are created because of the same four or five antagonists," he said. "They're made because people acted in such a way that a rule needed to be made."
Board member Brian Dawson called the anonymous requests "cowardly" and indicative of "bad intentions."
"It's happenstance that I don't really care for," he said.
Discovery Bay is home to a group of residents whom officials say are uncommonly antagonistic toward local government. The town, which receives about seven records requests each month, recently began publishing the names of those requesting public records in the agendas for its biweekly meetings.
General Manager Rick Howard said the no-cash policy will have the "side benefit" of creating accountability among those requesting information. He noted that no one ever picked up copies made for one of the recent anonymous requests, frustrating city staff.
"When we got anonymous requests, we don't know if people are going to come in and get this stuff or not pick them up," he said. "If it never gets picked up, we don't have any recourse to contact them."
Public records requests must be answered within 10 days, according to state law. Requests still may be made anonymously because a person who goes to inspect public records, for which no fee can be charged, doesn't have to provide identifying information.
Piepho says he hopes the new policy will make it harder for antagonistic residents to use records requests as a weapon.
"They want to be like snipers and take shots," he said, "but they don't want the spotlight on them."
Residents will be able to use checks, credit or debit cards and money orders to pay for town services.
Contact Hannah Dreier at 925-779-7174. Follow her at Twitter.com/hdreier.