Sunburned - Page 2

Document battle frustrates the mayor's flacks and galvanizes a new breed of activist

I'm attempting to form a decision," he said.
The task force doesn’t have the power of subpoena or investigative authority — its members can’t look at the e-mails and decide if they're public — so the matter was referred to the Ethics Commission, which does. Petrucione, who had the documents at the meeting, could have just handed them to Daly. She told the Guardian, "We're not concerned about what the e-mails say. We're trying to adhere to the letter and the spirit of the law."
In fact, the documents contained only mildly embarrassing information, with a pair of e-mails from Petrucione plotting ways to overshadow the news of Newsom's tenant protection veto last September by releasing word of the veto late on a Friday and coupling it with a high-profile announcement of San Francisco's Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, "which will bury any interest in the Ellis release."
But the MOC's resistance to disclosure — both to Daly and to activists also seeking information during that same time period — has only served to galvanize those seeking public records.
Everyone starts with a little kernel of concern, a reason to wonder or worry about what those elected officials are up to. Kimo Crossman last year wanted to know more about the sketchy municipal wi-fi deal with Google and Earthlink that Newsom was proposing. After hitting initial roadblocks when making requests for specific information like a copy of the contract, Crossman started asking for reams of documents, anything remotely related to the TechConnect plan. His concerns have now expanded to disaster preparedness issues and finally to the Sunshine Ordinance itself.
Last week at the SOTF meeting, where Crossman is now a regular member of the audience, he filed a complaint that the mayor had not provided the opportunity for public comment at a Disaster Council meeting June 5. After reviewing video and transcripts of the meeting and hearing Petrucione's evolving explanations, the task force found a violation.
Crossman — who at one time was being considered for "vexatious litigant" status by city officials who wanted to tone down his voluminous requests — was pleased and said, "I thought it was a success that the mayor was held accountable to Sunshine just like everyone else in the city."
Perhaps the violation will inspire the Mayor's Office to fulfill the outstanding records requests of other citizens, like Wayne Lanier, who had a little home improvement issue.
About a year ago, Lanier and a few of his neighbors repaired the sidewalk around a few trees and planted some flowerpots in front of their homes. Then the city slapped them with a $700 tax, under the Occupancy Assessment Fee for Various Encroachments.
The ordinance was introduced by the mayor and passed the Board of Supervisors in July 2005. It was designed to tax property owners who eat up the public right-of-way with stairways and fences, but the ordinance became what Lanier likes to call the "tree and beauty tax."
Lanier wanted to know what kinds of meetings and discussions had led up to this ordinance, so in March he sent a Sunshine Ordinance request to Newsom. "I requested his calendar prior to July," Lanier told the Guardian. "A very simple e-mail request under the Sunshine act."
Lanier says he has yet to receive an answer to his request, let alone any correspondence or acknowledgement from the Mayor's Office that they're working on it. Later, he had concerns about avian flu, where he was again rebuffed in his attempt to get documents.
The frustrating stories of Crossman and Lanier eventually caught the interest of Christian Holmer, who championed their causes and set out with Crossman on a project they think could streamline the practice of releasing public documents.
Holmer is the secretary of the Panhandle Residents Organization Stanyan Fulton, which has a Web site compendium of all the Sunshine Ordinance requests he knows about.