By Richard Knee

A group of open-government activists is working to get a CalAware-endorsed measure strengthening San Francisco’s Sunshine Ordinance onto a future citywide ballot.

CalAware’s  general counsel, Terry Francke, drafted the original language in the ordinance, which the city Board of Supervisors watered down and then passed in 1993, and voters approved a package of reforms to the law in November 1999. (Administrative Code Chapter 67)

While San Francisco’s is the nation’s first and arguably strongest local sunshine ordinance, experience has shown that it is still far from ideal. City officials find plenty of loopholes, violate it without consequence and have used their appointive powers to sabotage the work of the city’s open-government watchdog panel, the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force.

Ergo the current reform effort, and the group leading it has brought back the name of the organization that spearheaded the successful 1999 campaign, San Franciscans for Sunshine.

SFS is trying to marshal the human and financial resources necessary to collect at least 9,500 valid signatures by Dec. 11 and qualify its SF Sunshine Ordinance Amendments initiative for the first citywide ballot after this November’s. That could come as soon as next March, particularly if a movement to recall Mayor Edwin Lee gains traction, but no later than June 2018. The measure’s text is accessible at the above-cited website. Its key provisions include:

  • Mandating live televising or videostreaming of all public-body meetings in City Hall (Sec. 67.13(f)).
  • Tightening requirements for public records retention, backup and access, in line with evolving information technology (Secs. 67.31(b) and (d) and 67.33).
  • Requiring all elected City officials and all department heads to keep searchable logs of meetings they hold or attend in the conduct of city business, such logs to be disclosable public records (Sec. 67.33-3).
  • Increasing to 9 from 4 the number of voting members of the Task Force (which would be renamed the Sunshine Commission) to be nominated by outside public-interest organizations (Sec. 67.34(a)). The number of seats on the panel would remain at 11.
  • Authorizing the Sunshine Commission to hire its own staff, including an executive director/legal counsel and a clerk/administrator (Sec. 67.34(a)).
  • Establishing a $500 to $5,000 fine for willful violations of the Sunshine Ordinance (Sec. 67.42(a)(2) and (3)).

Most of SFS’s steering committee members are current and former members of the Task Force, most notably Bruce B. Brugmann, the retired San Francisco Bay Guardian editor/publisher, who shepherded the original ordinance through the Board of Supervisors, served on the task force for its first 10 years and led the charge for the 1999 reform campaign. The steering committee’s chair is former task force member/chair Allyson M. Washburn. (Disclosure: I also am on the steering committee.)

Questions and comments can be directed to the steering committee at sanfranciscansforsunshine@gmail.com.

Other organizations backing the initiative include the League of Women Voters of San Francisco, the First Amendment Coalition and the Pacific Media Workers Guild (The NewsGuild-CWA Local 39521).

Richard Knee is a freelance journalist in San Francisco. E-mail him at rak0408@earthlink.net.