Let the Sun Shine In
An argument for open meetings of the
School Board ... and elsewhere
By Richard Knee
At least four members of the Board of Supervisors favor
the idea of expanding the city's Sunshine Ordinance to include the
school district. But whether they'll go beyond what is essentially a
motherhood motion remains to be seen.
At the request of Supervisor Leland Yee, the board's
Rules & Audits Committee unanimously sent to the full board on Tuesday a
resolution urging the Board of Education to make the ordinance, which
spells out open-meetings and public-records-access provisions,
applicable to the school district, including its governing board. The
committee comprises chairman Tony Hall, Matt Gonzalez and Gerardo
Action by the full Board of Supervisors is scheduled
Yee's request comes at an interesting juncture and it
raises some questions. A review of the ordinance by the appointed panel
that oversees its implementation, the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force (SOTF),
is in progress. If the Board of Education balks, the supervisors or the
voters could force the issue by putting it on the ballot (because the
latest version of the ordinance was passed by initiative, all subsequent
revisions must receive voters' approval), though neither Yee nor any of
the committee members raised that possibility at the panel's meeting.
Whether a resolution by the supervisors would prod the
school trustees to embrace the ordinance remains to be seen. The idea
has been tossed around among the trustees over the past few years. But
most of them seem interested in finding excuses not to do it.
As former SOTF member Bob Planthold told the Rules &
Audits panel on Tuesday, school board members at a recent committee
meeting spent their time worrying out loud about how much it would cost
to adopt the ordinance.
Here's a rough idea: When a series of amendments to the
original, 1993 Sunshine Ordinance went on the ballot as Proposition G in
1999, city Controller Ed Harrington estimated the cost would be roughly
$1 per resident the first year and about half that in subsequent years.
What the school trustees don't seem anxious to discuss
is how much the lack of sunshine is costing the taxpayers, a point
underscored to the Rules & Audits Committee by outgoing SOTF member
Hilda Bernstein, who has chaired the task force the past year. Not too
long ago, a series of questionable expenditures by some school district
employees came at the expense of the students, Bernstein said. Had the
Sunshine Ordinance's reach included the school district, it might have
served as a deterrent, she pointed out.
Also worth asking is why the board's forthcoming
resolution should be addressed only to the Board of Education. Why
shouldn't it include the Community College Board of Trustees, and the
Port and Airport commissions as well? – though City College of San
Francisco is in the process of drafting its own. Neither Yee nor the
Rules & Audits committee members responded when this writer raised the
issue on Tuesday.
The matter takes on added relevance with recent
revelations by San Francisco Chronicle political sleuths Phil Matier and
Andy Ross about the Airport Department's lavish spending on lobbyists
during a period of drastic cuts in spending on services.
Meanwhile, some additional pressure could come in the
form of a state-constitutional amendment, being proposed by Senate
President Pro-tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) and six co-authors, that
would strengthen sunshine laws regulating the conduct of state as well
as regional and local officials and entities.
Senate Constitutional Amendment 7 has yet to be heard in
committee. The co-authors and the amendment's crafters – the California
First Amendment Coalition and the California Newspaper Publishers
Association – are in talks with various interested parties that have
voiced some misgivings.
For SCA 7 to reach the ballot this November, it must
receive two-thirds approvals from the Senate and the Assembly by June
27. Details and updates are available at
Richard Knee is a freelance writer and a member of the
city’s Sunshine Ordinance Task Force. More information about the
Sunshine Ordinance can be found at