Consequences of inaction - Page 3

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

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George Wooding found some emails that Rec-Park said didn't exist

Since 1993 the task force has given the Ethics Commission 19 sunshine violation cases. Only one has even been heard. The other 18 were dismissed or are still "pending investigation." Government officials are therefore under no serious threat if they disobey the law.

Richard Knee, former chair of the task force, says there is obvious animosity between the task force and commission staff. Rather than enforcing punishment, the Ethic Commission staff claim that cases can be dismissed on the grounds of insufficient evidence, or require additional investigation, which stalls the process indefinitely.

"I don't think there's any confusion, I think it's merely resistance," Knee said. "We are not asking the Ethics Commission to re-adjudicate something we have already adjudicated. When we refer a matter to the Ethics Commission we are asking them to tack some kind of enforcement action on a violation we have already found exists."

In the one case Ethics did hear, it turned the punishment decision over to the mayor as the "appointing officer," who did nothing. It has, therefore, never enforced a penalty on any government official that the task force found guilty.

A report released in August by the Civil Grand Jury, entitled "San Francisco's Ethics Commission: The Sleeping Watchdog," criticizes the body's record of inaction on both sunshine and campaign finance complaints.

"Because of the Ethics Commission's lack of enforcement, no city employee has been disciplined for failing to adhere to the Sunshine Ordinance. The Commission has allowed some city officials to ignore the rulings of the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force," the report says.

Johnson says that since the report came out, her correspondence with the Ethics Commission has shifted slightly.

"They used to send us letters back saying they dismissed it, but recently we've sent over two cases and they agreed that there had been a violation," Johnson said. "But they said they wouldn't be able to do enforcements of any kind."

She says that the Sunshine Ordinance won't be taken seriously until the very people it is meant to monitor begin to enforce its stipulations.

"It's difficult with the Ethics Commission because they keep all of their investigations secret," Johnson says. "There is no external oversight, it is all the politicians, all of the people who appointed them, they are the only people who monitor what they're doing."

In response to the report, Johnson hopes the Ethics Commission will be urged to actually hear sunshine cases, and Wooding's could be one of the first.

"The George Wooding case is a good example of how the Sunshine Ordinance can reveal oppression of a group of people who wanted to come together and have a constructive analysis," Johnson said. "That should be something that's allowed, and here's the very entity that they want to have an analysis and discussion about shutting them down. And here are some documents that prove it."

Wooding's case will be heard once more by the task force on Sept. 27. It will almost certainly be sent to the Ethics Commission, but Wooding may be waiting awhile for any resolution.

"It's probably going to take forever," Wooding says. "Either I'll just end up being another file in a cabinet somewhere, or this may even become an example, if it moves through, of how things should be done. There might be a lot more life in this than anyone ever imagined."

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

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