La Verne’s Open-Government Advocate Passes

April 24, 2011
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Richard McKee

Richard McKee


La Verne resident Richard McKee, an advocate of open government and a champion of the Brown Act, has died. News of his death came in a Sunday post by Emily Francke of Californians Aware, a statewide First Amendment watchdog group that McKee helped start.

“It is with deep regret and a very heavy heart that I must report that our dear friend and colleague, Rich McKee, suddenly passed away today, April 23, 2011,” Francke wrote.

McKee had served on the La Verne Planning Commission from 2007 to 2010, but the retired Pasadena City College chemistry professor was most widely known for his tireless fight to protect the public’s right to access public records and promote openness for meetings involving government agencies.

Since 1993 McKee was a citizen activist for open local government, educating officials in more than 100 local agencies on the requirements of the Ralph M. Brown Act and California Public Records Act. The founding president of Californians Aware, he also served on the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Press Club and as president of the California First Amendment Coalition. He lectured frequently on open government issues to community organizations, public officials, media groups, public agency attorneys, and college and university journalism classes, where the Los Angeles Times said he “gets as animated as Jack Nicholson at a Lakers game when he talks about the people’s right to know.”

While most of McKee’s efforts were focused on open government education, to protect the public’s rights, he also litigated 14 successful open government and First Amendment lawsuits, often representing himself. KPFK radio dubbed him “John Q. Citizen.” KCET’s “Life & Times Tonight” called him “the citizen who won’t shut up and go away.” The Times characterized him as “the scourge of public agencies across the eastern suburbs of Los Angeles County” who “walks softly and carries a big stick.” The Sacramento Bee christened him “Mr. Sunshine,” a man with “a head for the law, a heart for justice and a nose for government officials with secrets.” 

His crusade at time took great personal and financial toll. After suing the Orange Unified School District Board for alleged violations of the Brown Act in 2007, McKee as the losing plaintiff was responsible for paying thousands in attorney’s fees and court costs, forcing McKee to take a lien on his home and suffer garnishment of his wages. 

In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 786 by Sen Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) limiting the ability of cities, counties and state agencies to collect attorney’s fees under the anti Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) law.

The passing of this law may have been not only McKee’s greatest victory, but also his greatest legacy.

In a March 8, 2011 opinion piece for the, McKee wrote “Whether you scan local news or statewide articles, almost daily there are stories of public corruption scandals, bribery, extortion, and nepotism committed by those we elect and appoint to do the people’s business.  But these outrages never could have happened if the electorate had known about these deals before they occurred.  Public corruption is facilitated by secrecy; backroom deals with a quid pro quo.”


One Response to “La Verne’s Open-Government Advocate Passes”

  1. I just heard about Richard and I am devastated. He was a strong, beautiful man. I met Richards years ago when he was the President of First Amendment Coalition. He touched many lives. I personally owe a great deal to Richard for the time he devoted advocating open government. In his honor I will continue my involvement in my city and school district holding them accountable for their actions. I know Richard will be guiding me, from Heaven, through the trying periods we all face when we fight for an open and transparent government.

    My thought and prayers go to his family.

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