A distinguished man in his 70s with white hair stands at a lectern while giving a talk in a darkened amphitheater.
Brendan Riley gives a presentation at the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum on Oct. 22, 2022 in Vallejo, Calif. Credit: Geoffrey King / Open Vallejo

A group called Friends of the Solano Archives is circulating an 11th-hour petition aimed at blocking a plan, up for a vote May 2 by county supervisors, to abolish the Solano County Historical Records Commission. The commission provides the only public oversight for irreplaceable public documents.

Elissa DeCaro, chair of the records commission, was unaware of the proposal until the supervisors’ agenda was posted on Thursday. She says the plan is being pushed by Supervisor John Vazquez, who was the lone “no” on a 4-1 vote in 2016 for a collaborative plan to manage the historical records.

The advisory commission was established by supervisors in 1987 at the request of the “Solano County History Round Table,”  a group comprised of members of 21 interested organizations, to ensure the perpetual retention and protection of the county’s historical records.

In 2018, InfoCompass, a consulting firm, completed a detailed report on the commission intended to be reviewed by an ad hoc committee comprised of members of the records commission, the Board of Supervisors and county staff.

Instead, DeCaro says the independent report sat on the desk of a since-retired county administrator for several years, “an extreme disservice to the Board of Supervisors who ordered the report, and the public whose taxes paid its $60,000 cost.”

“The unwarranted pending action to dismantle the SCHRC appears to be the result of increased questioning of the status of the InfoCompass report, and an attempt to render both the report and the commission obsolete,” DeCaro adds.

Rows of archived records in a large room.

Solano County Historical Records Commission

The Solano County Archives Credit: Solano County Historical Records Commission

The Friends of the Solano Archives petition states that disbanding the records commission would have “catastrophic consequence to our historical records collection and public accessibility,” adding that the panel “serves the invaluable function of safeguarding our county’s government history, and was created to ensure the perpetual retention and protection of the County’s historical records dating back 173 years to its inception.”

“The complexity of our modern county government requires delegation and oversight,” the petition continues. “As the lone holder of institutional memory, the SCHRC continues to be relevant and needed in its purpose to serve in an advisory role, regarding the preservation and public accessibility of Solano County’s documentary heritage. Without the Historical Records Commission our history will be subject to neglect and loss.”

Protecting public records “is vital to protecting citizen rights,” the petition authors argue. “It is essential for documenting the County’s governance as well as the County’s economic, judicial and social development. It is a source of civic pride.”

Op-eds are contributed by people from outside this news organization. They represent the views of the author.

Brendan Riley grew up and lives in Vallejo, California. He is the author of Lower Georgia Street: California's Forgotten Barbary Coast. He previously had a 39-year career as a political and government affairs writer for The Associated Press.