Disapproving Characterization


by Amanda Witherell

We just got this letter from Matt Dorsey. He didn't like the way we talked about the city attorney's office and their love/hate relationship with metadata. Sorry Matt! You know we love your sunshiney attitude.

Press Secretary Dorsey writes:

For the record, I forcefully disagree with Amanda Witherell's characterization that this office's Sept. 19, 2006 memorandum represents a scenario in which "the city attorney's office in San Francisco has strongly advised against releasing public documents that may contain metadata."

A thorough perusal of this public memorandum should prove my point convincingly.

Matt convinces, after the jump...

But I believe even a cursory glance confirms that it serves to elucidate legal principles for why City departments have discretion to provide electronic records in either PDF or Microsoft Word formats when responding to public records requests. It is not -- and cannot reasonably be interpreted as -- strong legal advice "against" releasing electronic documents in one format over another.

Consider the following two statements from the memorandum, both representative examples of its analysis:

"This Office has orally advised City departments that, in response to a public records request for an electronic copy of a record, a City department *may* provide the record to the requester in PDF rather than Word format." (Emphasis added)
"A court would likely conclude that a City department *has discretion* under both the Public Records Act and the Sunshine Ordinance to provide an electronic record to a public records requester in PDF rather than Word format." (Emphasis added)

To be sure, reasonable minds may legitimately disagree with this office's legal analysis or conclusions -- as some have. And I would join City Attorney Dennis Herrera in being among the first to defend critics' right to do so.

But it is simply misrepresentative and wrong to portray this as a heavy-handed tactic by the City Attorney to "strongly advise against" releasing public documents containing metadata. Indeed, the City Attorney's Office itself routinely releases Word documents with metadata -- and has even specifically requested the same from Santa Clara County, with respect to the 49ers deal, as Amanda correctly reported.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian, in general, and Amanda Witherell, in particular, have done an exemplary job of covering issues relating to Sunshine and open government. In editorials and news reports that have been occasionally critical of the San Francisco City Attorney's Office -- and sometimes even complimentary -- their coverage has been tough, thorough and fair.

Yesterday's posting falls short of that standard.

I ask that this correspondence be publicly posted in response.

Press Secretary

San Francisco City Hall, Room 234
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, California 94102-4682

(415) 554-4662 Direct
(415) 554-4700 Reception
(415) 554-4715 Facsimile
(415) 554-6770 TTY