Read James Chaffee's response


Contact: James Chaffee 584-8999 /

Being Vexatious Down At the Public Library Is a Virtue

Open Letter to the SF Bay Guardian

The one thing that history has taught us is that if there is going to be responsible democratic government, there better be process, openness, access and respect beforehand, because there will never be accountability afterward. 

I use to think that there would be accountability, yet the forces of privatization have sucked our public library dry like any parasite, and everyone knows it.  Yet corporate philanthropy acts as if we are supposed to be grateful, and our city officials comply.

The San Francisco City Attorney has filed a motion to have me declared a vexatious litigant.  I confess that I am a bit shocked.  I never thought they would try it.  It is obvious that it is politically motivated and it needs to be addressed politically. 

There is no mistaking the source of this move.  There was a recent meeting of a committee of the Sunshine Task Force that had been called in the service of City departments reacting against document requests that were "annoying."  That was not the word, but something like that.  A representative of the City Attorney’s office, Matt Dorsey, stated that one of the City Attorney’s options was to seek redress in the court of public opinion.  Of course, it seems all too obvious to make an example of someone like myself who does not shrink from the term "Gadfly" but in fact embraces it.

According to the papers that were served with the motion for vexatious litigant, I have filed 20 lawsuits in my 31 year career as a Gadfly at the San Francisco Public Library.  When I started at the San Francisco Library Commission, there was no public attendance, no public comment, and I am sure the Library Commission never imagined there ever would be.  At that time the Library staff complained because the Library Commission had de facto meetings at the home of the director of the library's private partner, at that time called the "Friends" now called the Friends and Foundation.  A prominent member of the Library staff solicited me to complain about violations of the Brown Act.  I had never heard of it at that time.  That was a long time ago.

At about the time that I started there was a Robert Redford movie called, "Three Days of the Condor."  It was about an historical society that was a front for the CIA.  I was a fly on the wall in those early Library Commission meetings, and that is what it was like.  No one cared about the library as a public institution.  They were going to suck it dry in the interests of private fund raising.  I was the first person to break through the barrier to attendance at Library Commission meeting and that first meeting was more challenging than any open meeting issue I have faced since.  Having done this, I felt it was my duty as a citizen to expose what I saw.