Information, please - Page 2

The Bay Area leads the revolution in information sharing. So why is it still so hard to get basic public records in San Francisco?

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IMAGE VIA CREATIVE COMMONS

Unfortunately, public-records requests tend to be ignored all too often in San Francisco, spurring complaints that then seem to hit dead ends. Meanwhile, the government agency tasked with holding officials accountable under the Sunshine Ordinance and promoting ethical conduct in government apparently hasn't embraced this newfound enthusiasm for transparency.

NO RECORDING DEVICE

At a recent "interested persons" meeting hosted by the San Francisco Ethics Commission to talk about possible regulatory reform, Friends of Ethics (FoE), a group that's pushing for tougher rules, questioned why the city watchdog agency wasn't bothering to record the proceedings. "If we don't have a recording, and we don't have minutes, and we don't have a back-and-forth, how do we make decisions?" FoE member Eileen Hansen, herself a former Ethics commissioner, wanted to know.

Asked directly whether the agency would record the meetings, Ethics Commission Deputy Director Mabel Ng responded, "A lot of it depends on what our resources are. I don't even know that we have a tape recorder."

So: The city has $40,000 a year to spend on software that can plot graffiti on customized maps, but can't find $100 or so for a recording device for its open-government agency? It's little wonder that the Civil Grand Jury in 2011 referred to the Ethics Commission as "The Sleeping Watchdog."

That report found the commission had dismissed nearly every case forwarded to it by the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, which is tasked with investigating complaints filed under the city's open-records law. Between 2004 and 2010, for example, the sunshine panel sent 18 cases to Ethics — each one an example of a violation of the open-government laws so flagrant that the task force considered it official misconduct. Ethics dismissed all 18 of those cases. "Because of the Ethics Commission's lack of enforcement, no city employee has been disciplined for failing to adhere to the Sunshine Ordinance," the report found.

An analysis performed by the Board of Supervisors Budget & Legislative Analyst, meanwhile, discovered that 76 percent of ethics investigations in San Francisco die off with a "case dismissed."

And in some cases, the Ethics Commission hasn't adopted basic technology like Excel spreadsheets. For example, a San Francisco campaign finance law prohibits high-paid city contractors from making campaign contributions to elected officials who approve their contracts. It was enacted to eliminate quid pro quo dealings and prevent corruption — but it's next to impossible for elected officials to figure out if they're in compliance, since the filings aren't submitted electronically.

"By maintaining the paper format, Ethics makes it more difficult to utilize the data in the forms," former Ethics Commission staffer and FoE advocate Oliver Luby pointed out at the meeting.

Luby also pointed out that non-candidate campaigns, such as those promoting ballot measures, can conceal their donors by reporting campaign debt before receiving the funds to pay it off, making it impossible to track who's plunking down. This "dark money" loophole can thwart transparency, but the commission "has never proposed any solutions for this problem," according to Luby.

STRIVING FOR SUNSHINE

Even when citizens and journalists successfully wend their way through the public-records request process, it can be cumbersome. Sometimes, it's only after years of court battles that records are finally shaken loose, and newsrooms with deeply slashed budgets are increasingly hesitant to engage in the time-consuming request process. That's why Michael Morisy, a veteran journalist, started Muck Rock to facilitate the process of submitting public-records requests.

Comments

Just got back a sunshine request from the MTA for all emails on the "Bicycle Strategy," a document that the MTA pulled out of its, er, hat.

All I got was a CDROM of enormous PDF portfolios that have scanned image versions of the emails encapsulated into PDF. This creates a new public record from an existing public record, the text email, something that the Sunshine Ordinance says the departments are not required to do.

There is no way to take these lumps of data, index them and analyze them chronologically. There is one PDF that contains 15 text emails and takes up 60mb on disk.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 06, 2013 @ 8:11 am

I can find what I need, but do not need most of it.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 06, 2013 @ 8:47 am

Here's a start

find /path -name '*.pdf' -ls -exec pdftotext {} - \; | grep "your query"

Posted by Chris Pratt on Mar. 06, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

They provided PDF portfolios of email bodies. It is impossible to select text from the PDF, although each email can be saved individually with minimal metadata.

I want the full headers of the original public documents in industry standard default MBOX format so that I can create a database that allows for indexing, searching and chronological review.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 06, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

to then cause trouble for the city?

Ever sue anyone? Did you notice how in discovery they sent you 50 packing boxes full of paper docuemtns what would take you a lifetime to go thru?

You cannot reasonably expect others to help you make your case.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 06, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

Because the law is clear on this, that the public has the right to public records in their native format.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 06, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

Jason Grant Garza here ... wow, ANOTHER ARTICLE on TRANSPARENCY, SUNSHINE and ACCOUNTABILITY ... what a WONDERFUL FARCE. What do I mean ... shall we look at the MINISTRY of SUNSHINE ( google my name to read all the articles on the CITY"S SHILL and how they are ineffective ... did the BOS CLOSE THEM DOWN for over 6 months ... were the VICTIMS to die in the NUCLEAR WINTER ? )

Yes. it is a WONDERFUL ILLUSION like JUSTICE. the RULE OF LAW and HUMANITY. Shall I speak to you about when I sunshined the Department of Public Health over who ACCREDITS them for patient/medical care and DPH could NOT provide the CORRECT information and the SUNSHINE TASK Force informed me that they COULD NOT make DPH produce something it did not HAVE? Imagine DPH does NOT know who accredits them for patient/medical care. Why, so they can be protected by illusion as was the BOY SCOUTS during the BOY SCOUTS LAWBREAKING ACTIVITY by the POLICE, COURTS, OFFICIALS, etc. Don't believe me ... look at this youtube video regarding a FALSE (CRIMINAL FRAUD) restraining order that DPH claimed in order to deny me access and accommodation, medical treatment, followup, etc on 8/15/2012 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cP3jCmJFRo and then watch me go to the LAPDOGS (Sheriff) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uk7xpxL8QjI who tell me to go BACK to the LAWBREAKERS (DPH) and on 12/19/2012 they (DPH) break the LAW again http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFd-KtS8Zss .

Yes, if you look at the youtube videos ... you see the TREATMENT by the DA, the failing SFPD and my continuing AGAINST all odds ... just like I did when DPH broke FEDERAL LAW in 2001, had my case thrown out of FEDERAL COURT (C02-3485PJH) with TESTILYING and FRAUD in 2003 and in 2007 signed a settlement/confession with the OFFICE of INSPECTOR GENERAL admitting fault and guilt http://myownprivateguantanamo.com/settle1.html YET leaving their INNOCENT VINDICATED VICTIM for DEAD. Note it has started again ... since I still have NOT gotten an answer form either the SHERIFF nor SFPD as to who enforces and arrest for MEDICAL LAW VIOLATION as I have been demonstrating in the youtube videos. HERE is your TRANSPARENCY and NOTE the RESULTS ... sort of like the RESULTS for the four supervisors found GUILTY of OFFICIAL MISCONDUCT by the SUNSHINE TASK FORCE (Ministry of SUNSHINE) in case # 11048 for an ORDER in 2011.

Shall I show you what I got from David Chui's office regarding CIVIL GIDEON with their false and ineffective deadend lead to the SF BAR ASSOCIATION who after looking at the YOUTUBE videos told me that there was NO LAWYER who could help. Yes, the ILLUSION is GREAT, the deceit and inhumanity rival it but MOST of ALL ... the ENTIRE PROCESS is RIGGED and the INTELLIGENCE FIXED to give the appearance of correctness. Shall I tell you about the SUNSHINE to DPH in which I was denied my medial records with their false claim of HIPPA and their expert and city attorney advise that I was incorrect only to back down YET not be accountable in front of SUNSHINE ??? I have those records also inclusive of me following up with SUNSHINE to correct and being LEFT for DEAD ... why not? They (SUNSHINE) got the incorrect information ... based the incorrect decision upon it and when I tried to correct again was denied so that the "picture and framing" could be represented as help when it was the EXACT OPPOSITE and cover for DPH. This is the SHILL action by the MINISTRY of SUNSHINE to tire, vex, and annoy so that you will give up and go away.

Yes, the TRANSPARENCY proves FRAUD, DECEIT and NO incentive to change since as I stated ... what is NOT can be represented as what is and WHAT is can be represented as they ( the risk managers ) interpret and spin the TRUTH. Remember the WEAPONS of MASS DESTRUCTION that lead to WAR yet no consequence for the FRAUDSTERS ...

For more TRANSPARENCY on how the city works ... go to http://www.myownprivateguantanamo.com or go to youtube and type in Jason Garza.

Keep drinking the KOOL AID, ENJOY and KNOW you are NEXT. Here's a good example ... DPH BREAKS THE LAW with BOGUS STAYAWAY ORDER http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFd-KtS8Zss and the SFPD WILL NOT TAKE a police report/incident report in order to arrest and hold liable and accountable http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHuQi_I8e4E and THEN has the NERVE to ask me if there is SOMETHING WRONG with me ... how much more can I be transparent regarding the FAILED/RIGGED methodology?

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Mar. 06, 2013 @ 9:00 am

Grestso ncie sposo well!

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Posted by Guest on May. 18, 2013 @ 1:57 pm