New appointments to Sunshine Ordinance Task Force may help government watchdogs grow teeth

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Ali Winston tells city supervisors, who were concerned about diversity, that his mother is Turkish and he cares about the Middle Eastern community. The task force appointments met much controversy.
Photo by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

In a win for government transparency, a slew of strong new appointments for a city government watchdog group cleared their first round of approvals yesterday.

Society of Professional Journalists appointees Mark Rumold and Ali Winston, League of Women Voters appointee Allyson Washburn, and Attorney Lee Hepner were confirmed by the rules committee as appointments to the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force. That recommendation is now headed to the full Board of Supervisors for approval.

"Make no mistake, the people want open government," Thomas Peele, co-chair of SPJ's Freedom of Information Committee told city supervisors at the rules committee. "As Justice Brandeis said: 'Sunshine is the best disenfectant.'"

The Sunshine Ordinance Task Force was formed in the '90s, and tasked with policing transparency laws granting interested citizens (and journalists) access to government records. Emails, policy documents, and research are all openly accessible to the public under the city's Sunshine Ordinance -- but someone has to make sure city government plays by the rules. That's where the task force comes in.

It's a group that's needed now more than ever, as a Guardian investigation recently revealed a policy document allowing Mayor Ed Lee to delete any government emails considered "routine."

But the group has long drawn fire from the supervisors.

Supervisors have blocked SPJ appointments to the task force before, stemming from a political skirmish dating back to 2011, when the task force found the Board of Supervisors to be in violation of the Sunshine Ordinance after Board President David Chiu introduced amendments to a developer's agreement for the Parkmerced redevelopment project. The SOTF found the Board's action to be in violation of transparency laws; certain members of the board, in turn, accused the SOTF of going rogue.

That led to an impasse lasting more than two years, leading Bay Guardian founder and former publisher Bruce Brugmann to brand the Board the "anti-Sunshine Gang." Brugmann alleged the good work of the task force earned it a slap by city officials, who fear it. 

That slap manifested in long-delays of new appointments.

"That prevents the task force from doing the job it was supposed to do," Liz Enochs, immediate past-president of the SPJ told the committee yesterday. 

We've covered the history in prior posts. One of Brugmann's anti-Sunshine Gang, Supervisor Scott Wiener, was an ardent opponent of the task force. Some said his disapproval played a role in the Rules Committee blocking new appointees at their last meeting.

But that was before Wiener actually met the SPJ candidates: Rumold, an open government attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Ali Winston, a local investigative reporter of much renown. After sitting down with the pair, Wiener changed his tune. 

"In the past, the task force has been highly dysfunctional and ineffective," Wiener told the Guardian. But now, "the candidates I met with appear to have the big picture in mind -- focusing on improving transparency -- and I'm optimistic about the leadership role they can play in making the task force an effective and respected governmental body."

The new appointees were initially blocked during the last rules committee as Supervisors Katy Tang and Norman Yee asked for a stronger showing of diversity among the candidates. 

That caused rumblings among local journalists, who know Winston is of Middle Eastern descent. He asserted this to the rules committee yesterday.

"I want the committee to know my mother is [Turkish], my family is throughout eastern Europe and the Middle East," he said. "I'm very cogniscent of Middle Eastern and Muslim concerns in San Francisco."

The LOWM's candidate, Allyson Washburn, also addressed her diversity credentials.

"First of all, I'm a woman," she said, "also I'll be the oldest member."

Sup. Yee interrupted, saying with a smile, "I can relate to you!"

That brought some laughs, a far cry from the usual tone when discussing appointments to the task force. But one final sticking point remained: a delay in the appointment of Bruce Wolfe, a local politico and board member of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council. That leaves Bruce Oka still in his task force seat, though he's long said he wants out. 

Chris Hyland and Josh Wolf were also recommended by the Rules Committee. Interestingly, insiders say it's still an open question if Wiener will move to block their appointments.

Sticking points aside, these six candidates now have a clearer path for approval by the Board of Supervisors. Maybe soon the sun will shine a bit brighter in City Hall. 

Comments

We elect people to do their job, so we must trust them to do the day-to-day.

The danger with these is that only the "usual suspect" troublemakers want it.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2014 @ 1:18 pm

Whenever the voters weigh in at the state and local level, they always call for more government transparency.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 06, 2014 @ 1:39 pm

What percentage of the population EVER look at these reports? I doubt it is even 1%, and probably always the same trouble-making 1%.

Nobody has been complaining that these positions weren't filled, for good reasons. They don't care.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2014 @ 1:51 pm

You keep on losing these elections and you blame the voters for your loss. Excellent.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 06, 2014 @ 2:06 pm

There is development going on throughout this city. I'll take that as a victory for the people who support development.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2014 @ 2:39 pm

We're talking about elections on open government measures on this thread.

Remember when Willie had to get Tammy Haygood, diapermistress, to dump ballots in the bay to stop an anti-development ballot measure from winning?

Posted by marcos on Jun. 06, 2014 @ 5:55 pm

to the DA. Otherwise it's just an urban myth.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 07, 2014 @ 5:26 am

The story omits two names from the list of those sent up by the Rules Committee: journalist/videographer Josh Wolf and incumbent Chris Hyland. I know both and strongly endorse their candidacies, as I do those of Messrs. Rumold, Winston and Hepner and Dr. Washburn.

Posted by Richard Knee on Jun. 06, 2014 @ 3:53 pm

my first reaction is that they are not balanced and diverse.

The ideal set of picks would make no one faction happy, but rather give everyone something to complain about.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2014 @ 4:28 pm

All appointees to the SOTF have to support the ordinance and its faithful lawful implementation. Knee supports candidates who support and pledge to follow the law.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 06, 2014 @ 8:14 pm

ason Grant Garza here ... again ... everyone is MISSING the WHITE ELEPHANT ... NO ENFORCEMENT powers!

"New appointments to Sunshine Ordinance Task Force may help government watchdogs grow teeth" ... MAY NOT SHALL! 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.

No go to my MINISTRY tapes or better yet Clerk of BOS or even my Weiner videos ... learn the GAMES and watch the INHUMANITY and KEEP DRINKING the KOOL-AID.

Again the MINISTRY is a Shill for the city and a GREAT risk management tool.

Shall we see JUST how much TEETH the MINISTRY has against Lee's routine?

No just more false promises, false hope, false process, NO RESULTS and viola the VICTIMS go away .. the city WINS. What happened for the Park Merced case # 11048 http://www.sfbos.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=41143 or 12056 http://www.sfbos.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=47410 when THEY went for ENFORCEMENT ... lost the question ... DO NOT want to face the answers or just spouting how good SUNSHINE is without ENFORCEMENT? Maybe EVERYONE is being FOOLED.

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Jun. 07, 2014 @ 12:42 am

And that typically means that there is nobody who likes all of them.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 07, 2014 @ 5:27 am

It's ironic that Supervisor Scott Wiener, who in 2012 labored to defeat Sunshine Task Force appointments of equally qualified nominees from the Society of Professional Journalists, the League of Women Voters and New America Media - as well as the sole applicant from the disability community should now speak in praise of "transparency".

Amusing too is his claim that the previous Task Force was "highly dysfunctional and inefficient" given his own role in fomenting inefficiency and dysfunction. Wiener lauded the re-appointment of 2 fawning candidates with the worst attendance records on the SOTF. Absenteeism is "inefficient". Further, when we requested any kind of data from Wiener in support of what he touted as "very solid incumbents who have done a very good job in turning around the Task Force" he was unable to provide any. Yet these two, Todd David and David Pilpel promoted themselves at the 5/15/14 Rules Committee Hearing by slamming their SOTF colleagues - a glaring example of "dysfunction". Sowing discord and friction within the Task Force also generates "inefficiency".

Worse, in 2012 Supervisors David Chiu, Mark Farrell and Wiener triggered the greatest "inefficiency" in Task Force history - forcing it to shut down for about 5 months - by blockading Bruce Wolfe, the sole qualified candidate from the disability community. Without a Task Force member with a physical disability, the Task Force had to stop meeting because its warped composition violated the requirements of the Sunshine Ordinance. How "inefficient" was it for Supervisors to throw their weight around, violate the Sunshine Ordinance, and create a 5-month backlog of Sunshine complaints? Nothing compares.

Everyone wants to turn the page on this sad chapter, but re-writing history won't work. Bay Area journalists, the ACLU, League of Women Voters, government watchdogs and hundreds of engaged citizens know what happened.

Posted by Guest Derek Kerr on Jun. 07, 2014 @ 1:18 am

Jason Grant Garza here ... and the CONSEQUENCE? Watch my Weiner, Clerk of BOS, MINISTRY videos for a start. Do I have a meeting with Weiner? Did I get a meeting with my own supervisor (BREED)? NO ONE is WATCHING.

"Everyone wants to turn the page on this sad chapter, but re-writing history won't work. Bay Area journalists, the ACLU, League of Women Voters, government watchdogs and hundreds of engaged citizens know what happened. "

Do the citizens also UNDERSTAND that an INEFFECTUAL (NO ENFORCEMENT POWERS) MINISTRY is a sham and worse yet USED as a SHILL by the city as a risk management tool?

WOW, shame to the SHAMELESS, false hope to the HOPEFUL and FASLE/RIGGED SUNSHINE to those who seek it.

Producing a false and NO RESULTS process is INHUMANE. Learn the GAMES, watch the INHUMANITY and NOTE the MINISTRY still is ineffectual ... HOW many years later? What 12 years of service ( no results .... 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.

Again false HOPE is WORSE than NO HELP.

Since it has gotten to this POINT ... let us FIX NOT bandaid and slap a fancy label ... (sharing information ... you know like sharing economy) for I still prefer the TRUTH .... the MINISTRY of SUNSHINE ... still NO ANSWER from the MINISTRY in regard to INEFFECTUAL NO RESULTS NO ENFORCEMENT failing procedure that ALL are beating their chests over ... oh that is right ... they (the MINISTRY know) yet smile expecting incremental advance to work while STARING them in the face with the FACT that they (the MINISTRY) HAVE NO ENFORCEMENT power. Designed to fail .... just look at the RECORD. http://www.sfbg.com/36/49/news_sunshine.html

Oh ... has ANTONE offered the complainants during the NUCLEAR WINTER any assistance?

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Jun. 07, 2014 @ 2:59 am

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