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Good government task force wants to rewrite Sunshine Ordinance

By Rachel Brahinsky

Just two years after San Francisco voters passed an initiative that radically reshaped the city's open government law, the task force that oversees enforcement of that law is gearing up to revamp it.

The Sunshine Ordinance, originally passed by the Board of Supervisors in 1993 and amended by the voters in 1999, governs the conduct of public officials and the release of public information from city offices.

Hilda Bernstein, chair of the 11-member Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, appointed a committee last month to review any problems with the law and to recommend to the Board of Supervisors any changes that could improve it. Bernstein said the task force would be more effective with increased enforcement capabilities, an independent budget and staff, and a new name.

The law can only be revised by a ballot initiative, placed before voters either by the supervisors or by petition. Task force members Joshua Koltun, Daniel Guillory, and Ted Kowalczuk were appointed to serve on the committee.

But longtime advocates for the law warned that efforts to script new provisions should proceed with caution. "Maybe down the road there are some ways the ordinance could be strengthened," said Richard Knee, a member of San Franciscans for Sunshine, the citizens group that gathered signatures for the successful 1999 Sunshine Initiative.

But, Knee said, "Anybody who's interested in preserving and strengthening the public's right to know has to be very vigilant because the process of amending the ordinance will leave opportunities to sabotage it. And there are people in City Hall who would love to sabotage it." Knee is also on the Northern California Society of Professional Journalists' Freedom of Information Committee, which focuses in part on forcing politicians to operate more openly.

The new committee will meet for the first time Tues/22 at about 6 p.m., after the close of the full task force meeting in City Hall, Room 408, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Pl., S.F. E-mail Rachel Brahinsky at rachel@sfbg.com.