Sunshine Task Force

Fixing SF's sunshine problems

Let's take our cues from Connecticut on this one

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EDITORIAL Open-government advocates are circulating a series of amendments to the city's landmark Sunshine Ordinance, and a lot of them make perfect sense. In general, the changes bring the law up to date — and deal with the ongoing and increasing frustration over the lack of enforcement that has rendered toothless one of the most progressive open-government laws in the nation.Read more »

The return of Willie Brownism to the sunshine task force

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As an advocate for the passage of the  San Francisco sunshine ordinance and task force in the early 1990s, I felt obligated to take my first and only City Hall position and serve as a founding member of the task force. I served for l0 years and helped with many other good members to build the task force into a strong and respected agency  for helping citizens get access to records and meetings and hold city officials accountable for suppressing access.

The task force is the only place where citizens can file an access complaint without an attorney or a fee and force a city official, including the mayor, to come before the task force for questioning and a ruling on whether they had violated  sunshine laws, The task force lacked enforcement power, but it still annoyed of city officials, including Mayor Willie Brown.

In fact, Willie spent a good deal of time trying to kick me off the task force. He used one jolly  maneuver after another, even getting an agent to make a phony complaint against me for violating the ordinance with an email. (The complaint went nowhere.) I refused to budge and decided to stay on the task force until Willie left office—on the principle that that neither the mayor nor anybody else from City Hall could arbitrarily kick members off the task force. When Willie left office after two terms, I resigned with the hope that the Willie principle had been established. Read more »

Guardian editorial: Saving money on sunshine

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We hate to pick on Scott Wiener, who is a polite guy who always takes our calls and takes public policy seriously. He's got an extensive legislative agenda — good for him — and he's effective at getting bills passed. We're with him on nightlife, and even on nudity towels in the Castro.

But he's been taking on some more disturbing causes of late — he's managed to tighten the rules for the use of Harvey Milk Plaza and now he's asking for an audit of the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force that looks at how much each city department spends responding to sunshine requests. We're not against audits nor government efficiency, but this could lead to a lot of mischief.

There are plenty of problems with the task force, which hears complaints against city agencies that are denying the public access to documents. The biggest problem is that the task force has no enforcement authority — when the members find an agency or official to have willfully defied the law, the best they can do is turn those findings over to the Ethics Commission, which simply drops the case. Nobody ever gets charged with anything or gets in any trouble for refusing to follow what every public official in town piously insists is an excellent law. Read more »