I tell this story to politicians a lot, and I’m telling it again because there’s an awful lot of angst at City Hall over the demands of a few (admittedly madly aggressive) sunshine advocates who are coming close to paralyzing some departments.
The tale goes back, way back, to about 1986, when a reporter named Jim Balderston and I got onto a story about the horrible, potentially deadly problem of asbestos contamination in the public schools. We called Ray Cortines, who had just taken over as school superintendent, and asked to see a long, long list of district records — the sort of broad, sweeping request that makes city attorneys work hundreds of hours trying to decide how to comply.
But Cortines didn’t call the city attorney. He invited us over to district headquarters, took us into a room filled with file cabinets, and said: here you go. He told a staffer to help us make copies of what we needed. Then he left us alone.
No district lawyer sat in the room checking to be sure that there was nothing confidential in the files. Nobody prescreened the stuff for possible secrets.
We spent a week there and came out with some amazing stories that embarrassed a lot of district officials — and may have saved the lives of a lot of kids.
I’m sure there were reams of documents in those files that contained what are technically confidential bits of information. But here’s the amazing thing: nothing bad happened.
The district didn’t lose any lawsuits because of what ran in the paper. No labor contracts were jeopardized. No personnel records were wrongly exposed. Not a goddamn thing.
This is what drives me nuts about “metadata” and all the other stuff that gadflies like Kimo Crossman are asking for, tying the City Attorney’s Office in knots and costing the taxpayers all this money.
Please: just give it to them. The republic will survive. SFBG