As a newspaper publisher in both Mill Valley and Turlock, Stanley T. Wilson was truly a community leader who worked to make those cities better places to live. In addition, he was at the forefront in the fight to require government agencies in California — at both the local and state levels — to conduct their business in meetings that were open to the public and the media.
Wilson was born Feb. 1, 1911, in Los Angeles and moved with his family to Arizona at an early age. He started his newspaper career at the age of 12 as a "printers devil" for the Casa Grande Bulletin, where he learned to set type. He worked for several California newspapers, including the Orange Daily News, where he spent seven years covering police and city hall. After that, he moved to the San Rafael Independent as circulation manager. He was president of the California Circulation Managers Association in 1944.
In 1945, he bought his first newspaper, The Mill Valley Record. In addition to his duties as publisher, Wilson covered the Mill Valley City Council. He complained frequently in editorials that members of the council would meet for dinner before their meetings and then routinely pass items with little or no discussion. This experience was the beginning of his lifelong crusade for open meetings, which resulted in much of the open meeting and FOI legislation in place today.
In 1953, Wilson sold The Record and purchased the Turlock Daily Journal. It was during his years in Turlock that he had the largest impact on the community.
In 1957, Governor Goodwin J. Knight signed legislation authorizing a new college to be located in Stanislaus County. Citizens of Turlock felt that the new college would be a benefit to their community, and created a special committee to win the election. They knew they faced an uphill battle against the neighboring city of Modesto, which also wanted the college. They appointed Wilson to head the committee.
Modesto was filled with citizens of influence, who made their desire known in high places in Sacramento. What they didn’t realize, and which was perhaps the deciding factor in the final selection, was that Wilson had established a strong friendship with Governor Knight.
After several years and many lengthy trips to Sacramento, the final decision came in December 1959 and Turlock was selected as the home of the new Stanislaus State College. At a Chamber of Commerce dinner a few weeks later, Wilson received a standing ovation and was credited with being "the man most responsible for bringing the state college to Turlock."
In 1952, Wilson became president of the California Newspaper Publishers Association where he continued to push his agenda for open meeting laws. It was in the year following his presidency that the Ralph M. Brown Act was approved by the Legislature. Ralph Brown was Wilson’s assemblyman, and they had developed a close friendship while Wilson sought to convince Brown of the need for open meeting laws. While this act applied only to city and county government, the Bagley-Keane Act later required open meetings of state agencies.
The co-author of this later legislation, former Assemblyman William T. Bagley of Marin County, established a long friendship with Wilson while he was publisher of The Record. In 2005, Bagley wrote that Wilson "was my inspiration. It was this issue, new to me at the young age of 30 when first elected, that was the very genesis for my interest and action on behalf of FOI."