Deleting accountability - Page 2

Sunshine Ordinance Task Force says Newsom's destroying public records

G to reveal "the time and place of each meeting or event attended." The only exclusions may be "of purely personal or social events at which no city business is discussed and that do not take place at City Offices or at the offices or residences of people who do substantial business with or are otherwise substantially financially affected by actions of the city."

Therefore, a Prop. G calendar should contain everything a city official does every day in the course of working for the public. When asked if all the blank spaces on the Prop. G calendar represent personal time, Ballard said, "It could be personal. It could be other. It's not anything we're required to divulge under Prop. G."

But just because it should be there doesn't mean it is. For example, the mayor's calendar for the afternoon of April 19 shows him attending a library luncheon at 12:30 p.m., a phone interview at 2:30 p.m., and a 4 p.m. meeting with his chief of staff, followed by a Port Commission swearing in.

But we ran into Newsom coming out of a 2 p.m. Recreation and Park Commission meeting, where he spoke in support of more public art in the city. This event is not listed on his calendar. Ballard said the Prop. G calendar is sometimes amended to reflect changes. "I don't have an android following him at all times. We're just human beings working here."

"If he indeed was there, I will try to remedy that," Ballard added.

This scenario suggests other public business is also not being adequately tracked and Newsom's real calendar could fill in the gaps, but the mayor's computer software is set to automatically delete the working calendar after five days, destroying a record of what the mayor actually did.

Aside from any prurient interest in what the mayor is up to, an accurate record of events is a part of public accountability. Newsom's calendar for the week of April 16 lists 31 meetings and events amounting to 25 1/2 hours at work. The city attorney's Prop. G calendar is even more paltry. Between April 23 and 27, Dennis Herrera apparently attended 13 meetings and spent 11 1/2 hours working for the city.

Calendars are important public documents, Scheer says. "Most importantly, they give an insight into who has access to that public official." But, he says, "it's only as revealing as it is complete."

Scheer and the CFAC are currently involved in a court case with San Bernardino County. The San Bernardino Sun sued the county for access to supervisors' e-mails, memos, and calendars for a period of time last summer during a large fire that destroyed houses. Bill Postmus, the chair of the board of supervisors, appeared to be AWOL during the emergency, and reporters at the Sun sought relevant documents that might support Postmus's claim that he was in contact with his staff at the time.

A judge ordered the records released, with redactions, and most officials have complied, except Postmus, who has convinced the county to hire outside counsel and appeal.

Back in San Francisco, the Mayor's Office doesn't seem to be sweating much about the next legal action regarding its records management. The task force does not have the power to levy fines or punishment, so the calendar case has been referred to the Ethics Commission, the district attorney, and the attorney general.

"We will be vindicated by the Ethics Commission," Ballard said. "The Ethics Commission will side with us." *