By Todd Swindell and Michael Petrelis
The fire department eats up a robust portion of the city's budget pie, yet its commission doesn't broadcast their meetings on SFGovTV, but that may be changing in the very near future.
At the October 23rd fire commission meeting during one of our times at the mic for public comment, we pushed for immediately moving these meetings to a camera-equipped room at City Hall, which is also much more accessible via public transit for taxpayers than schlepping down to SF Fire Department headquarters at 2nd and Townsend Streets.
If the commission chose not to take advantage of City Hall for better engagement with taxpayers, we suggested the department install cameras in the auditorium at headquarters and to begin at least live streaming the meetings. In short, we are buying any excuses for the abysmal lack of transparency.
According to the Fiscal Year 2014 budget (http://preview.tinyurl.com/SFFD-2014-budget), the department's total allocation was $86.5 million and the line item allocation for communications was $2.3 million. Them's a lotta bucks!
To our delight, and surprise, one of the commissioners, openly gay Ken Cleaveland, said he had not arranged in advance for Petrelis to show up at the meeting and advocate for his pet issue of putting the meetings on SFGovTV. We cheered him on.
The July 10th minutes (http://tinyurl.com/SFFD-mins-SFGovTv), reveal extremely lame and unacceptable excuses from the Chief about why the public is being kept in the dark:
"Commissioner Cleaveland asked why the Commission meetings aren’t televised. Chief Hayes-White stated that there were a couple of reasons. One, there is an expense to it as well as logistics. It was determined that it was more practical to have the Command Staff at Head Quarters as opposed to City Hall where SFGOV TV is set up. [...]
"Commissioner Cleaveland expressed his desire to have HQ assessed for whether or not it can be linked to the city’s feed for public access and mentioned that the recent Grand Jury Report on Commissions addressed the terms of access to the public and getting the information out. [...]
"President Nakajo informed Commissioner Cleaveland that his point was well taken and that we’re all supportive of public access of information and he added that’s what our minutes are for and it being published on the website so the public can review those."
With an $86.5 million dollar allocation of our taxes, the Chief citing expense is bogus as is putting her staff's needs of above full transparency to taxpayers. Command staff can drive their taxpayer-funded vehicles the short distance to City Hall. Reading minutes is not meeting the gamut of ways the public needs to keep tabs on the fire department. Between the Chief and the commission president, we see a department's leadership ignoring providing appropriate government sunshine to the public by 2014 standards.
By the way, in August 2012 we asked then-commissioner London Breed, now a member of the Board of Supervisors, to push for moving commission meetings to City Hall and broadcasting them (http://tinyurl.com/Petrelis-Breed-SFFD-GovTV). Breed wrote:
"I am supportive of exploring the option to move fire commission meetings to City Hall and placing them on public access television."
While she didn't lift a finger two years ago, she's been leading a pitchfork brigade against the Chief and hasn't brought up the subject of getting the fire department to become fully transparent. We ask her to look into this issue again.
Finally, we must point out that back in March we persuaded Department of Public Health director Barbara Garcia to finally begin airing health commission meetings on SFGovTV and we offered her profuse public praise (http://tinyurl.com/Petrelis-DPH-SFGovTV).
If you agree that it's a good development for taxpayers to have health commission meetings on SFGovTV and that we need the same from the fire commission, and think our advocacy on these important government transparency matters is of benefit to the public good, and you're pissed off that the fire department is dragging its heels, then #VotePetrelis!
Two members of the ambulance force were at the commission hearing. Written minutes alone do not give the public a full picture of the diversity of who works for the SFFD or shows up at meetings.
One of the commanders parked his vehicle where it blocked a fire hydrant.
Ken Cleaveland listening to the Chief's report.