Deleting accountability

Sunshine Ordinance Task Force says Newsom's destroying public records
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amanda@sfbg.com

Public records are coming in pretty handy these days. Congress is using them to investigate the relationship between the Republican National Committee and the firing of eight attorneys general, and as with many investigations that use documents to uncover malfeasance, some key documents are missing — in this case Karl Rove e-mails.

It seems Mayor Gavin Newsom's office also has a penchant for the delete key, according to findings of the city's Sunshine Ordinance Task Force. Two complaints brought by citizens have been heard by the task force regarding how the mayor's daily calendar is kept — or isn't kept — and what happened to e-mails that disappeared after they were requested by a member of the public.

"We found there was willful and ongoing violations and destruction of records," task force chair Doug Comstock told the Guardian.

Staff in the Mayor's Office say they didn't do anything wrong and no willful destruction of public records has occurred. According to Joe Arellano of the Mayor's Office of Communications, the e-mails — invitations sent out for the mayor's Jan. 13 District 1 community policy forum — were purged because they were temporary.

"We have such a huge e-mail system, we have to delete e-mails that are transitory. These, to us, were the same kind of e-mails," Arellano said.

The case is on hold awaiting further information regarding the city's capability to retrieve purged electronic documents and will be heard again by the task force. But the larger issue is whether Newsom is intentionally keeping his calendar a secret, in violation of city law.

The Mayor's Office only makes public Newsom's so-called Prop. G calendar, named for a 1999 ballot measure expanding the Sunshine Ordinance and explicitly making the mayor's schedule a public record. It's a stripped-down version of his list of appointments, often with only a couple events per day.

The Mayor's Office has argued that Newsom's complete calendar can't be made public, citing security and privacy concerns. The task force disagrees and contends it's a document that should be public, with redactions of security and privacy information as needed.

The Mayor's Office disagrees. "The sunshine task force is wrong, and we are right," Newsom press secretary Nathan Ballard said. "The calendar we give to the public and press exceeds Prop. G."

Arellano, in a letter to the task force, described the other document as a "working calendar that is extremely detailed and accounts for his time from departure from home until his return in the evening. The working calendar contains not only the Mayor's meeting schedule, but also confidential information such as the officers assigned to protect him, security contact numbers, the Mayor's private schedule, details of his travel," and everything else that he's doing.

"What they refuse to realize is they're both public documents," Comstock said about the dual calendars.

Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC), agrees that both calendars are public if they contain information about what the mayor's doing with his city time.

"If they have security concerns, they can withhold particular items that would jeopardize the mayor's security. There are certain things we can all agree on that can be withheld, certain driving routes and evasive strategies for emergency planning. But when the vehicle stops and he gets out for a meeting at an office, home, or place of business, that item has to be revealed," Scheer said. "If we're talking about a calendar, there may be thousands of items, and only a handful may be subject to redaction. They can't use the few to justify nondisclosure of the many."

But that's precisely what the Mayor's Office is doing.

The mayor, city attorney, and all department heads are required by Prop.