The war on sunshine

Pub date May 22, 2012

EDITORIAL The Rules Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors joined the war on sunshine May 17 when it rejected four qualified candidates from three organizations who are mandated by the ordinance to choose representatives for the task force because of the organizations’ special open government credentials.

The representatives served as experienced, knowledgeable members who were independent counters to the nominees of supervisors who were often promoting an anti-sunshine agenda. The committee asked the organizations to come up with more names.

That was a nasty slap at members and organizations that have served the task force well for years. And this arbitrary demand will make it virtually impossible for these organizations to come up with a “list of candidates” to run the supervisorial gauntlet. Who wants to go before the supervisors on a list for a bout of public character assassination?

Specifically, the committee:

• Unanimously moved to sack the two incumbents (Allyson Washburn from the League of Women Voters) and Suzanne Manneh (New California Media). The League was mandated to name a representative because of its tradition and experience with good government and public access issues. New California Media was mandated to name a member to insure there would always be a journalist of color on the task force.

• Unanimously refused to seat two representatives from the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the sponsor of the ordinance with a long tradition in open government and First Amendment issues. One SPJ mandated representative was for a journalist (Doug Comstock, editor of the West of Twin Peaks Observer, one of the best neighborhood papers in town and a former chair of the task force.) The second mandated seat was for an attorney (Ben Rosenfeld).

• Tried to knock out incumbent Bruce Wolfe on motion of member Mark Farrell, but Wolfe survived on a 2-l vote.

• Voted unanimously for four new persons to the task force while sacking and refusing to appoint able members with experience and expertise without a word of thanks.

Committee Member David Campos later told me that he went along because he could see he didn’t have the votes. He said the organization’s candidates “were eminently qualified,” that they should have been appointed, and that he would fight for them. He said he would ask the office of Jane Kim, who chairs the committee, to set the issue for hearing at the next rules meeting or call for a special meeting.

We asked Campos what the organizations should do. “They should stand by their candidates,” he said. We concur.

The Society of Professional Journalists, the League of Women Voters, and California New Media and their open government allies should stand by their candidates, lobby for them with the rules committee and the full board, and get out the word about this attempted coup in the most important court of all, the court of public opinion.

The Sunshine Task Force has annoyed some elected officials with its dogged efforts to promote open government. City Hall is already trying to find ways to undermine it. That needs to end, now.