Monday, February 27, 2012

Stone Age: Required SF Nonprofit
Meetings' Info Available Only on Paper

Over the years 1999 and 2000, the city of San Francisco strengthened and expanded existing government transparency requirements, and the Nonprofit Public Access Ordinance was added to our sunshine statutes. All charities that receive $250,000 or more in city dollars fall under the purview of the ordinance.

These charities are required to hold at least two board meetings open to any member of the public. Exempt are groups providing abortion, domestic violence or suicide prevention services.

Here's the language about the meeting requirements:

(1) Each nonprofit organization shall provide the public with notice of each designated public meeting at least 30 days in advance of the meeting.

(2) The Board of Directors shall cause a written notice of the date, time and location of each designated public meeting to be submitted to the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors who shall post the written notice where notices of meetings of the Board of Supervisors are posted, and to the San Francisco Main Library Government Information Center which shall post the written notice where notices of meetings of City boards and commissions are posted. In addition, upon inquiry by a member of the public, the nonprofit organization shall disclose the date, time and location of the designated public meeting.

Unfortunately, the ordinance does not mandate the meeting info be posted on either the library, clerk of the board or nonprofits' web sites.

I went down to the main library over the weekend to examine the binder of paper notices from the nonprofits, pictured, for 2011. The binder was a solid genuine 7 inches, not M4M internet inches, offering ample evidence that a large number of nonprofits comply with this aspect of the ordinance, and that is a good thing.

However, we're not living in the stone age of info being available only on paper and at two physical locations. The details on the mandated board meetings must be posted on the web site for the Clerk and the library, so the taxpayers can more easily find it and attend the meetings. I'd also like to see the nonprofits subject to a requirement that they publicize their open board meetings on their sites too. All this will require changes to the ordinance by the Board of Supervisors.

Before those changes happen, I propose that web pages for the Clerk of the Board, the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force and the government information center of the main library be amended to include details about how members of the public can call the Clerk's office or the government center at the library, and get the info about when a nonprofit is holding their public meetings.

The Clerk can be reached at 415-554-5184 and the number for the government desk at the library is 415-557-4494. I don't know if either entity takes requests for meeting info via email, but that would be one more way to facilitate public knowledge and engagement by the taxpayers with the nonprofits.

When the Supervisors next take up ways to improve the sunshine act and the nonprofit ordinance, let's make sure bringing the meeting info for city-funded nonprofits is on the agenda.

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