Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Ron Conway Rep, Alex Tourk, to S.F. Public & Press: Drop Dead

(Public domain photo.)

On a certain level, it's so junior high school-like behavior and cliquish and makes those who are excluded feel as though they have cooties.

I've followed up my December 23 post asking if the public is allowed to attend three newly-established committees that involve three separate components of City government and Tech Inc. This exchange in recent days between myself and Alex Tourk, pictured, the political consultant who operates the Ground Floor Public Relations firm which represents sf.citi, the advocacy group founded and controlled by tech mogul and political power-broker Ron Conway, reveals the answer to my transparency question.

No, the committees are not open to people with cooties, meaning the general public and press can't sit at the cool kids' table in the cafeteria. If vital public policy issues weren't being debated and decided behind closed doors, decisions that will directly affect my quality of life in San Francisco, along with that of a whole lot of other folks, I might be able to laugh about the exclusion and opacity.

I started the exchange with Tourk assuming sunshine laws apply because the Mayor, the Supes and the SFUSD are partners in the committees, and he replied:

My apologies for the delay in my response but your assumption is false. These are meetings hosted by sf.citi, not the Mayor's office, and we are working internally with our membership companies to form substantive committees and work collaboratively with other sectors to support potential solutions to the housing issue, encourage tech companies to follow the lead of Salesforce.com in adopting philanthropic models and the formation of a Local Jobs Pipeline to connect diverse San Francisco youth, specifically girls and minorities, to exposure to coding, skill development, internships and jobs, 

These meetings will not be open to the press as they are run by sf.citi which is an advocacy organization.

However, sf.citi's release about the committees, issued after the Mayor and perhaps other City employees were in attendance at an invitation only meeting, clearly states the meetings will be conducted in partnership and collaboration with City bodies and personnel. My followup:

How is it the committees have been set up "in partnership" with the mayor and BOS, and "in collaboration" with the SFUSD, and sunshine laws don't apply? Also, why aren't the committees voluntarily committed to full transparency and public engagement? Many of us average citizens are quite concerned that so many important decisions about public policies at City Hall, that direct affect us daily, are made behind closed doors. Frankly, the lack of openness and no public comment at the upcoming committee meetings are reasons to be worried. Why not just become transparent with the committees and work _with_ the public?

Tourk said:

We are an advocacy organization and represent our member companies. Our goal is to tap into the innovation and talent within the tech sector and leverage the power of technology around civic action in San Francisco and work collaboratively with government to craft new solutions to historic problems facing the City. We meet regularly with city leaders and representatives from various departments to brainstorm on ideas of how to better utilize technology in government. [...] These are not governmental meetings they are hosted by sf.citi. We have various non-profit and community partners that we regularly engage, and partner with to develop programs and initiatives that will make a positive impact on the community.

He didn't answer my question about why the committees can't just adopt and adhere to meaningful transparency principles. The citizens that will be affected by what Tourk, Conway and Tech Inc decided with City leaders and department heads are being asked to trust these folks to do the right thing for us, not with our engagement.

Tourk offers not one shred of serious fact why transparency is not integral to his committees. Reason to be skeptical of this endeavor. BTW, I'd like to see a list of sf.citi's nonprofit and community partners in the committees.

Since Tourk cited Salesforce.org's philanthropic model, I took a look at the Salesforce.org Foundation's latest IRS 990 filing  on GuideStar since it's not committed to voluntary transparency meaning the foundation doesn't post tax filings on their site, to see what the executives were getting paid.

Mark Dicey, SVP Global Sales

Robert Flaherty, RVP Enterprise Sales

Barbara Kibbe, Chief Operating Officer

Suzanne DiBianca, President

Brian Scharlin, Mid-Market Sales

Sandra Rowe, Field Account Executive

Kurt Hagen, Chief Financial Officer

Tamara Ferrin, Field Account Executive

Interesting that the salaries are quite comparable to the excessive compensation I see in pay packages for AIDS Inc and Gay Inc executives. Anyway, these Salesforce.org Foundation leaders, who probably don't have a clue about the fears so many face in the eviction epidemic and our daily struggles to survive, are to be trusted to create City policies without the prying eyes of the press and public.

I've filed a complaint with the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force regarding what I allege are violations of open meetings laws. Let's see how the SOTF handles my complaint. Stay tuned.

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