By Richard Knee
Your Guild would expand its role in working for local government transparency under a package of reforms to San Francisco’s Sunshine Ordinance that the citizens’ group San Franciscans for Sunshine hopes to place on this November’s citywide ballot.
The proposed initiative, which SFS filed on May 23 with the city Department of Elections, would authorize the Guild to nominate one of four journalists to serve on the 11-member commission that monitors how well City Hall implements and enforces the ordinance.
It would also give organized labor its first-ever voting seat on the commission, significant because the current ordinance establishes timelines for public review of the city’s labor contracts before the Board of Supervisors may act on them.
While the Guild has embraced the idea of taking on the nominator’s role, it has yet to adopt a formal position on the entire initiative. (Disclosure: This writer participates on the SFS steering committee and played a major role in drafting the measure.)
The Sunshine Ordinance (Administrative Code Chapter 67) “has not been amended by the voters since 1999. It needs to be updated and strengthened to reflect advances in technology, to correct ambiguities and generally to increase the effectiveness of San Francisco’s open-government laws and processes,” states the notice of intent to gather voters’ signatures that SFS filed along with the initiative.
Once the initiative text receives form and content approval from the city attorney’s office, which has a June 7 deadline, SFS will have until July 11 to collect at least 9,500 signatures from registered San Francisco voters, unless the group can persuade at least four members of the Board of Supervisors to sign off on it.
The package which would strengthen and update the nation’s first and already strongest set of open-meeting and public-records laws, culminates several years of work by current and former members of the aforesaid commission and by numerous citizens passionate about sunshine.
The initiative would, among other things, mandate live televising or videostreaming of all policy body meetings in City Hall and tighten rules on public records backup, storage, access and deletion.
It would also remove the commission, now called the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, from oversight of the Board of Supervisors and the city attorney, would authorize the commission to hire its own full-time staff and would increase citizen involvement in appointing the commission’s members by raising to nine from four the number of members nominated by outside public interest organizations.
The task force now includes an attorney and a journalist nominated by the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California chapter; a journalist from a minority-owned news outlet who is nominated by New America Media; and a member of the public nominated by the League of Women Voters of San Francisco.
The initiative would add as nominators, besides the Guild, the First Amendment Coalition for an attorney; the Media Alliance for a journalist; the Freedom of the Press Foundation for an information technology expert; and the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods for a member of the public.
SPJ NorCal has accepted a request from NAM to become nominator of the minority-owned media journalist, and would continue nominating an attorney and another journalist. LWVSF also would retain its nominator’s role.