Consequences of inaction - Page 2

How the breakdown in sunshine enforcement leads officials to destroy public documents and defy unwelcome inquiries

|
(8)
George Wooding found some emails that Rec-Park said didn't exist

Mark Buell, president of the Recreation and Park Commission, also emailed Greg Dalton, Commonwealth Club's COO, from his private email address: "I find the title inflammatory, the participants biased, and the fact that no one from the Rec and Park Department invited hard to understand. As president of the Commission I would like to urge the club to both alter the title of the event to 'issues facing the park' and have the club ask a representative of the department to be on the panel."

Shortly thereafter, Buell was added to the panel and the event was renamed "Golden Gate Park Under Siege?"

Buell says the situation has been blown out of proportion. "I got on the panel because I've been active with the Commonwealth Club for years and all of a sudden I read a very slanted title about something tantamount to the ruination of Golden Gate Park, and a panel of people who are all critics," Buell told us.

Wooding says the panel went smoothly, but he was unsettled by the last minute changes. He asked around for any information about what happened and got the emails through a knowledgeable source close to the RPD.

"[RPD] has pissed off a lot of people because they came in with a hammer when they didn't need a sledge hammer. One of the people they pissed off was really upset and ended up giving me the correspondence," Wooding told us.

As a journalist, Wooding said, "I was thinking, 'this is a great story but wait, I can't use any of this information,' so I thought about how I could get the information legitimately?"

Wooding immediately emailed Olivia Gong, a RPD secretary, making clear that he was requesting the emails in accordance with the Sunshine Ordinance. Gong replied that the department did not have any documents matching the request.

"Imagine how amazed I was when they claimed they didn't exist," Wooding said.

After a second request turned up nothing, Wooding knew they were hiding the emails. He then asked Gong how she had determined the emails did not exist. Gong forwarded emails she had sent to department members who replied they did not have responsive documents.

Wooding then filed a complaint with the task force, which voted unanimously that RPD was in the wrong. Not only did it claim the emails did not exist, but when it became clear that they did, the department said that members deleted the emails because some were sent on private accounts and did not directly pertain to RPD affairs.

"I just delete everything," Buell says. "It's not that I did anything, it's just that I didn't know the rules that you're supposed to keep everything."

Task Force Chair Hope Johnson says she was shocked by this argument. The California Public Records Act, which is more lenient than the Sunshine Ordinance, clearly lists emails as a form of government document that must be handed over on request. The Sunshine Ordinance covers emails as well, and all officials who serve on city boards were required to undergo sunshine training last year, outlining what public documents are and noting that it's illegal under state law to destroy them.

"Just switching over to another email address lends itself to the idea that this is something they knew was underhanded and would not be received positively by the public," Johnson said.

She says this is becoming a problem throughout city government.

"There's not a lot of specificity about keeping emails. They need a retention policy," Johnson says. "Obviously I think that they prefer it to be as vague as possible."

 

POSSIBLE PUNISHMENT?

Although the task force found RDP in violation, punishment is up to the Ethics Commission, a separate entity at City Hall.

Enter bureaucratic gloom and doom.

Comments

Great reporting on a very serious issue. Democracy can't occur when officials are corrupt and refuse to work with the public who pays their salaries. Thank god George Wooding put the pieces together and is willing to do the heavy lifting to sound the bell.
Rec and Park is being grossly mismanaged by Phil Ginsburg, an atty. with no park experience. He's Newsom's long time bud and Newsom gifted him with the Rec & Park Directorship for which he gets at least $250k/yr + benefits. Ginsburg is all politics all the time. He gives lip service to working with communities, preferring to answer the calls of the really high rollers like the Fisher (Gap) family, Gettys, Susie Tompkins Buell and her husband, Mark Buell (part of the Commonwealth Club scandal above).
Ginsburg is being protected by Dennis Herrera and Mayor Ed Lee who are also Newsom/Brown puppets. So far Jeff Adachi and Terry Baum have promised to fire Ginsburg and clean up Rec & Park... can't wait.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 21, 2011 @ 12:41 pm

And put an end to the privatization of our public property.
It's a start.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 22, 2011 @ 7:42 am

Ms. Ballard has shown herself to be totally without credibility, hard to imagine for a Rec Park Spokesperson. "I have nothing" was her response on May 11th to a Sunshine request for e-mails concerning the Commonwealth Club panel. This denial came three weeks after she sent an e-mail to Ross Lawley from sb@sfgov.org and another to Kerry Curtis, (CC Member) trying to kill the panel.

What is going on in McLaren Lodge and why are these folks still taken seriously?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 21, 2011 @ 9:58 pm

This is an excellent article.

There is more to this story than a failure to enforce records retention policies. Here we have a situation in which high level city employees and an appointed President of a City Commission attempted to use their position to prevent the public assembly and free speech of concerned citizens on a matter of public policy. Did these public officials feel that this meeting would endanger public safety? If not, what possible reason could be important enough to abridge free speech?

According to RPD's Director of Policy and Public Affairs, this was a "deeply biased panel with no interest in discussing facts". Who were these disruptive outside agitators? Well, as a matter of fact, the panel included the President of the Western Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Conservation Director of the Bay Area Audubon Society, the interim Director of SF Beautiful and past Executive Director of SPUR, and the President of the West of Twin Peaks Council. I doubt that any of these worthies planned on bringing molotov cocktails to the meeting.

Is this an isolated instance of an effort to suppress free speech by City officials, or is it part of a pattern? Were these e-mails and phone calls the independent actions of a highly placed City employee, a Commission President, and the Director of the City Fields Foundation (a member of a public-private partnership with the Recreation and Park Department) , or was this a coordinated effort by the City to squelch public discussion? Is it simply a coincidence that all of the relevant emails have been erased? Why isn't the Ethics Commission as well as other law enforcement officers interested in what may have been an official coordinated action to suppress free speech in San Francisco?

Finally, the Commonwealth Club deserves the public's thanks for not bending to pressure and for allowing the meeting to be held.

Posted by An Advocate of Free Speech on Sep. 22, 2011 @ 10:22 am

Readers may decide for themselves about the Commonwealth Club panel. To view the video of this discussion, go to our website:

http://home.earthlink.net/~sfoceanedge/id68.html

Posted by SF Ocean Edge on Sep. 22, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

Readers may decide for themselves about the Commonwealth Club panel discussion. For a link to our video, please go to our website: www.sfoceanedge.org

Posted by SF Ocean Edge on Sep. 22, 2011 @ 12:50 pm

A few evenings ago I attended a meeting at a rec center in the Richmond in which about twelve mayoral candidates gave their views on several issues. One issue was Rec and Parks proposal to extend the existing soccer fields in GG Park behind the Beach Chalet, astro-turf them, and light them up with 60-foot-high floodlights until 10:00 PM every night of the year. Eleven of the candidates were absolutely opposed to it. The twelfth was so slippery, I couldn't tell you whether he was for or against if my life depended on it.

Afterward I heard overheard people. One said, It's encouraging to hear all this opposition from the politicos. But at the risk of bursting the happy bubble, even if God the Father and the whole Western World were opposed to something, if Mr Ginzburg and his friends in the "private sector wanted it, it would happen anyway. And people around the speaker nodded their heads.

Now I don't know if this accusation is valid. But even this perception of the head of our Rec and Park Dept is terrible! How did such a perception come about? Did it appear out of thin air? Do such lousy reputations simply blew in and take root, like wind-blown seeds?

Just a question...

Posted by Guest SF Resident on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 7:38 pm

Ginsburg is indeed terrible and should be fired without hesitation, but he wouldn't be able to get away with all the crap he pulls if it weren't for the fact that the Rec and Park Commission itself rubber stamps nearly everything staff hands to them.

The next mayor needs to throw out both Ginsburg and the entire commission and start from scratch.

And we organizers and citizens need to change the appointments system of that commission to give the Board at least half of the appointments.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 7:57 pm

Also from this author

  • Alerts

  • Alerts

  • Crowded funds

    CAREERS AND EDUCATION ISSUE: The ups and downs of entrepreneurship on Kickstarter