There was an important victory for sunshine last week in San Francisco, one that has reverberations beyond the city's borders.
The reason why is the complaint was against a federally-mandated health advisory panel, in this case an HIV council, and there are many such bodies across the country, all of which need to be reminded that the photography and taping of their meetings is protected activity.
By the way, the HIV Prevention Planning Council is an arm of the CDC and funded with federal dollars.
Congratulations to Cynthia Laird and Rick Gerharter for reinforcing existing sunshine principles!
From the BAR edition of March 29:
The city's Sunshine Ordinance Task Force has found an HIV policy body to be in violation of the city's and state's open meetings laws due to its restricting the ability of photojournalists to document its meetings.
The task force voted Tuesday, March 27 that the health department's HIV Prevention Planning Council, which sets policy and recommends how the city allocates federal HIV prevention funds, violated both the California Brown Act and the local sunshine ordinance by requiring photographers to receive permission to photograph its monthly sessions from the HPPC co-chairs prior to its meetings. [...]
The Bay Area Reporter challenged the HPPC's rules after the policy body told B.A.R. freelance photographer Rick Gerharter he could not take photographs at its September 14 meeting because he had not requested permission to do so prior to the afternoon meeting. B.A.R. news editor Cynthia Laird, who filed the paper's complaint with the task force late last year, said she challenged the restrictions on taking photos because it impedes the newspaper staff's ability to do their work. [...]
HPPC Co-Chair Tracey Packer, the health department's interim HIV prevention director, defended the restrictive policy as necessary to protect HPPC member's privacy rights. [...]
"We know we must allow it but ask for approval to let our members know to protect their safety," said Packer, who said the co-chairs did not ask Gerharter to leave but simply pointed out the policy to him. She said approval "can be [granted] right there before the meeting starts."
But the argument did not sway the eight task force members; [...] They voted unanimously that the HPPC was in violation of open meeting laws and recommended that the HPPC include a warning on its agenda that its meetings may be photographed.
"The B.A.R. of all people is really interested in the issue. It should not have happened," said task force member Sue Cauthen.