Mayor Newsom’s YouTube hypocrisy

Pub date December 30, 2008
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION Mayor Gavin Newsom’s "State of the City" YouTube fiasco — in which city SFGTV employees helped create 7.5 hours of non-mandated programming — is complete hypocrisy.

While the mayor touts technology and transparency of his efforts, he has opposed using available technology to broaden access to public meetings in City Hall, even though that is now mandated under the Sunshine Ordinance. Why are we getting Internet speechifying, rather than transparent access to City Hall meetings?

If you’ve ever wanted to listen in on what are now essentially secret, backroom policy discussions and decisions being made in San Francisco’s City Hall, you’re not alone.

If you’ve ever imagined being able to hear those conversations — while you’re sitting at home or in your office, during your drive to work, while on Muni/BART, enjoying a java in your favorite café, or really anywhere — the technology is already in place. You could use your iPod or MP3 player, or listen to a podcast, similar to using Books on Tape.

Right now only about 30 of the 80-plus regular City Hall meetings are televised and posted online for on-demand or downloaded viewing. Some of the remaining 50-plus meetings are at least audiotaped, but they require awkward and costly procedures to obtain them.

In an effort to increase transparency of San Francisco’s government, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi introduced legislation earlier this year to expand the recording mandate and require online posting within 72 hours after a meeting. Currently only policy bodies must audiotape their meetings, but Mirkarimi’s mandate extended the recording requirement to other City Hall agency and departmental hearings, and to lesser-known passive meeting bodies. It was such an obvious and popular idea that the Board of Supervisors overwhelmingly supported it and subsequently overrode Newsom’s veto.

Newsom continues to claim the enhanced transparency mandate would be too costly, but simple research has shown that the city has all the equipment, contracts, and staff in place to implement Mirkarimi’s transparency mandate today. In fact, any laptop or $40 digital recorder can make the recording, and posting online is similar to the few steps needed to upload a YouTube video.

It appears the mayor just doesn’t want anyone to see the sausage he’s making, unless he can script and control it. Other City Hall bureaucrats blocking this include Jack Chin, head of SFGTV; Angela Calvillo, clerk of the board; and Frank Darby, Calvillo’s administrator of the Sunshine Task Force. They all raise spurious complaints, pass the buck, and refuse to discuss reasonable accommodations, apparently following mayoral prohibitions despite the board’s veto override.

The Sunshine Ordinance requires all civil servants to prioritize compliance over any other duties when there is a conflict, and failure to obey the law is official misconduct.

It’s sad that Newsom, city employees, and City Attorney Dennis Herrera are doing everything they can (by action or by ignoring these daily violations) to prevent the ability of the media and the public to have this transparency. Needless to say, with the looming city budget deficit, our interest in following these detailed machinations is at an all-time high.

We should demand that City Hall’s foot-dragging cease, by implementing Mirkarimi’s legislation immediately.

Kimo Crossman is a government watchdog and a member of San Francisco’s Sunshine Posse. Crossman can be reached at Open government advocates Joe Lynn and Patrick Monette-Shaw contributed to this report.