"E" is for "evidence"

Mayor Ed Lee drafts a policy allowing him to delete emails deemed "routine."

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Mayor Ed Lee drafts a policy allowing him to delete emails he considers "routine," but does it violate city and state public records policies?

Former Mayor Willie Brown was infamous for keeping the workings of San Francisco government secret. Now his successor, Mayor Ed Lee, has codified government secrecy into written policy.

A Bay Guardian review of Lee's newest public records retention schedule found the mayor granted himself the ability to destroy public records with broad power: deleting emails deemed "routine," drafts of legislation, and records of telephone calls to the office of the mayor.

The policy should have anyone interested in government transparency up in arms. It potentially flouts the California Public Records Act, as well as the city's Sunshine Ordinance, state and local laws granting citizens and journalists alike the legal right to keep tabs on what goes on under the hood of the political machine.

Emails, which Lee's policy says the Mayor's Office can destroy, are a particularly powerful tool for keeping government in check.

"Sources can be less than reliable, but an email speaks for itself," said James Wheaton, senior counsel for the First Amendment Project, a group that defends the public's right to government information. "Emails are a unique window into the way an institution functions. We call these things 'paper trails.'"

But the paper trail used to track the mayor is kept in the shadows by his new policy, the most recent crack to appear in an eroding wall of public trust in open government.

The mayor's document deletion policy

LET THE SUNSHINE IN

Reporters and engaged citizens depend on access to public records to do the everyday dirty work of keeping an eye on government.

In 2010, reporters from the Los Angeles Times investigated the town of Bell's corrupt network of city officials (including the mayor and police chief), who swindled money from city coffers. Public record requests of their emails revealed brazen exchanges: "I am looking forward to seeing you and taking all of Bell's money?!"

Closer to home, public records allowed a Sacramento Bee investigative reporter to uncover perilous corrosion in the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, leading to a public outcry over a threat to public safety.

The Guardian, long critical of mayoral backdoor deals, often requests emails from government agencies to track people in power. "Behind the Tweets [3/11]," relied on emails obtained from the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development to chronicle how Twitter wrangled local lawmakers into weakening the benefits it had to supply the city in exchange for its much-contested tax breaks.

A recent Guardian investigation led us to the mayor's newly minted policy. When Guardian Editor in Chief Steven T. Jones requested email correspondence from the Mayor's Office, we were told the emails may have been deleted, leading us to ask a reasonable question.

"What the hell?!"

VANISHING PAPER TRAIL

On April 22, the Guardian made a Sunshine Ordinance request to the Mayor's Office for communications involving Tenderloin power broker Randy Shaw and the Tenderloin Museum project that he and Lee launched at a press conference the previous day.

Comments

And left-wing governments are typically more secretive than conseravtive ones.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 03, 2014 @ 2:48 pm

Where do you get your "facts" regarding left wing governments? When we get honest Government, be is Conservative or Liberal, then we can trust the people in charge to actually represent "us". The very reason we want transparency is that all of the people in charge take donations from corporations of the wealthy, and then vote in "their" interests. That's why we needed to pass Prop b... developers have bought City Hall and somehow we must curb their power. It is not only helpful, it is now a necessity.

Posted by Michael Keough on Jun. 04, 2014 @ 9:12 am

eastern Europe operated from WW2 until the people finally through them out in the 1990's.

Secrecy was their middle name.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 04, 2014 @ 3:09 pm

With Ed Lee's process, suspicious and incriminating records will be labeled "routine" and then deleted. Say goodbye to transparency.

It's best to keep those records. There is no good reason not to keep them.

The people's business should be done in public.

Posted by Rocket on Jun. 05, 2014 @ 2:44 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 05, 2014 @ 3:31 pm

Randy Shaw used his 501 (c) non-for-profit, Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC) blog, "BeyondChron" to seek the removal of non-for-profits from upcoming legislatoin regarding lobbying. Low and behold, within days of publication, the Supes removed non-for-profits from the legistlation. While it has been argued that politically-based non-for-profits will be covered by the proposed legislation, Shaw's non-for-profit will not be. Why? Because this multi-million dollar non-for-profit enjoy's its tax exempt status by claiming is complies with Federal law prohibilting it from engaging in political activity. Hmmm...isn't Shaw's use of the THC's blog to get non-for-profits like his removed from the legistation a textbook case of "influencing legisltation"?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 04, 2014 @ 10:26 am

interests which surely any entity is allowed to do.

Moreover didn't the SCOTUS Citizens United ruling explicitly confer "person" status on entities like corporations, charities, unions and non-profits?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 04, 2014 @ 3:10 pm

Jason Grant Garza here .... are you SURPRISED? "The Guardian pushed on the issue and obtained a copy of the records retention policy from the Mayor's Office. The Mayor's Office drafted a new version of that policy, which was quietly approved by Lee's Chief-of-Staff Steve Kawa as well as City Attorney Dennis Herrera in February.

We've been pushing for more information on how that policy differs from previous versions, and whether it complies with state and local public records laws. But the staff member from Herrera's office who dealt with the policy was unavailable for comment, and we haven't gotten a straight answer from the mayor."

Is this the same ineffectual MINISTRY of SUNSHINE http://www.sfbg.com/2009/05/05/making-sunshine-work ... Fourteen times the task force has asked Ethics for action, and 14 times those cases have been dismissed - with little serious investigation) and still offering false hope and false unaccountable no result process? Go to http://www.sfbg.com/politics/2014/05/20/supervisors-play-politics-sunshi... for some insightful comments.

Now don't forget HOW MUCH the BOARD of SUPERVISORS do NOT care also ... HOW MANY YEARS without a FULL TASK FORCE? It was not full in 2012 to 2014 and it still as of NOW is NOT.

So while the MAYOR is crafty ... what is the INEFFECTUAL MINISTRY by offering false hope, no results and more window dressing for their TRUE purpose (risk management for the CITY.)

Go to youtube and type in Jason Garza (over 450 videos) and watch the MINSTRY of SUNSHINE videos. Learn the GAMES and watch the INHUMANITY.

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Jun. 05, 2014 @ 10:19 am

says? A certain amount of discretion is essential in any organization.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 08, 2014 @ 6:13 am

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