Friday, November 06, 2015

London Breed and Sunshine

From the Westside Observer:

Dr. Maria Rivero & Dr. Derek Kerr

For those who are driven to govern, transparency doesn’t come naturally. Nudging City governance out of the shadows often relies on open government advocates. For example, the 2013-14 Civil Grand Jury report, Ethics in the City: Promise, Practice or Pretense, recommended amending the Sunshine Ordinance to require that Supervisors’ business calendars be publicly disclosable. Since 1999, the Ordinance had required only the Mayor, City Attorney and department heads to disclose who they met and where. Although the Jury found that “nearly all” Supervisors voluntarily provided their meeting calendars, some officials “failed to list the subject matter and the attendee’s names” making it difficult to track lobbying activities and influence peddling.

London Breed, who clenched the Board presidency in January 2015, has viewed requests for her calendars as intrusions. When sunshine activist Michael Petrelis requested them this April, he was initially told the “voluminous” records would take time to assemble. Instead of delivering the calendars, Breed’s legislative aide sent a startling e-mail: “Supervisor Breed has not maintained a calendar since February 1st, 2015. Per the charter rules, Supervisor Breed is not required to keep a calendar.”

...On June 16, 2015 the Supervisors amended the Sunshine Ordinance to require the disclosure of their daily appointment calendars, including meeting locations and attendees. Breed demurred, “I’m not necessarily a fan of this measure.” Surprisingly, the tough-talking Supervisor who confidently attends District 5 community gatherings, cited “concerns about my personal safety” and “establishing a pattern of my whereabouts.” Plus, “it took my staff several days to separate my public and private calendar.” 

Breed made a motion to withhold the location of Supervisors’ meetings and to wait for the Department of Technology to organize their calendars. Her motion died for lack of a second. The Board voted 10-1 in favor of disclosing its calendars. Breed voiced the sole “No.” On July 7 the board finally, and unanimously, passed the amendment. The Mayor signed it into law on July 15, but Breed’s displeasure smoldered.

Though not a member of the Rules Committee (Avalos, Tang, Cohen), Breed materialized at the September 10 meeting “in place of Supervisor Cohen.” The agenda included the approval of a journalist and a lawyer applying for the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force (SOTF), the 11-member body that adjudicates sunshine complaints. Both applicants were nominated by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) that is mandated 2 seats on the SOTF. Still working in the City, both nominees had recently moved to Oakland so they needed residency waivers from the Supervisors.

After Hoodline editor Eric Eldon gave his presentation, Breed launched a meandering interrogatory about “conflicts of interest” when journalists serve on the SOTF. Note: voters approved assigning 3 journalists to the SOTF: from the SPJ, New America Media, and local press. Breed wondered if Eldon’s “professional opinion” as a reporter who pursues City records might conflict with “making the right decision.” Unappeased by Eldon’s ethical strategy for countering potential bias, Breed declared, “Let me be more specific; I have a different opinion about the calendar requests…there’s a thin line between public information and being nosey…I don’t think it’s appropriate for the public to know my whereabouts 24 hours a day.” 

Then, the litmus test: “Do you think that public officials should have to share their calendars if requested?” Since her question had been affirmatively and legally answered in July, it was deployed to render applicants into supplicants. Eldon maneuvered out of Breed’s trap by crafting thoughtful, ego-soothing responses, including, “I would listen to the advice of the City Attorney” and “I can’t say I’m decided on that.” Incidentally, Breed had been wrangling with the SOTF since June, when she was found in violation of the Sunshine Ordinance for dodging a hearing on her calendar hoarding.

The other SPJ nominee was Mark Rumold, an Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney who litigates transparency and surveillance issues in the National Security arena. After serving on the SOTF for 9 months, he had to resign upon moving to Oakland. He presented his credentials and goals in a straight-forward way, without fawning. Breed didn’t bother to ask him a single question, then groused; “I’m not completely familiar with Mr. Rumold…” Apparently, he hadn’t kowtowed for her blessing before the hearing. To show who’s boss, Breed “hesitantly” approved Rumold’s residency waiver.

All three Supervisors okayed the candidates, but Katy Tang’s mute passivity was a marked departure from her energetic obstruction of SPJ nominees in 2013-14. Joining a Board vendetta against the SOTF, Tang had applied her own litmus test: supplicants had to vow to abide by City Attorney opinions in sunshine disputes. She also imposed a “diversity” standard on SPJ candidates that she waived for City Hall shills. Press coverage set off a political imbroglio for Tang, and may explain why she ceded this year’s litmus test to London Breed.

Dr. Maria Rivero and Dr. Derek Kerr were senior physicians at Laguna Honda Hospital. They repeatedly exposed wrongdoing. Contact:

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