Unless it falls under redaction discretion, entire documents should be provided.”
Young took the issue to the legislators who do draft the legislation, asking the November 2 meeting of the Rules Committee for further policy consideration. Miriam Morley spoke on behalf of the city attorney’s office, and said there was a sound legal basis for providing documents as PDFs, but that this was an evolving area of the law that the city attorney’s office wasn’t aware of until about 9 months ago. They could find no other cities currently grappling with the issue, but she said, “Our conclusion is that a court would likely hold a right to withhold a document in Word.”
The committee decided to research the issue further before making a ruling. Committee chair Ross Mirkarimi said he had been integral to the drafting of the Sunshine ordinance, and to rush a decision could be detrimental.
“It seems to me in the spirit of the Sunshine law this is something we should really look at,” Tom Ammiano said. It’s currently at the call of the Chair of Rules and no date has been set for the Rules Committee to hear it again.
A policy in San Francisco could set a real precedent for public records law, but according to many first amendment lawyers, for the Board to do so would be a violation of state law. “I know of no other city, county, or subdivision of state government or state agency that’s disregarding the clear intention of the law as some elements of San Francisco city and county government are planning to do,” Newton told us.
“It’s a debate that can’t really occur outside of a proposal to change the state law,” he said. “The Board of Supervisors can’t pick and choose which law to comply with,” and he said the state’s constitution and public records act trumps the city, which is reading the law too narrowly. “They’re required to give a broad interpretation of this access law. If they don’t like it they should come to Sacramento and get a bill,” he said.
“I think a lot of city departments, and policy and advisory bodies can save themselves a lot of headaches by declaring as policy that they will provide documents in their original formats,” task force member Richard Knee said. “With metadata.”