Saturday, February 08, 2014

What Happened at Ron Conway's Public Policy Meetings in January?

(Mayor Lee, left, with Ron Conway at tech conference. Credit: Steve Jennings, Getty Images.)

Since Mayor Ed Lee and other City officials attended a December closed-door meeting convened by Big Tech's Ron Conway's advocacy group, I've been trying to sunshine who attended and believe open meeting laws apply to it. I've attempted a meaningful dialogue with Alex Tourk, the PR maven for and Conway, but his one task when dealing with the public is spin, spin, spin. My previous posts on these matters are here and here.

This my early February note to Alex:

I am following up on our exchange from last month about the three committees you have established in partnership with the City. Your December release said the committees would meet in early January and I have not seen a release about those private meetings on your site. If the meetings took place, please let me know what was on the agenda and accomplished.

Also, I asked in previous emails about why the committee can't be open to the public and that question has not been answered. I would very much appreciate receiving an answer as part of this continuing conversation. A number of my blog readers have follow my transparency concerns regarding the December 16 meeting with Mayor Ed Lee and your committees, and they also wonder why the public can't be part of the meeting process.

His reply:

I have communicated this repeatedly to you, you simply choose not to listen. We are an advocacy organization, not government, and we hold meetings with various community stakeholders to develop a road map of activities we choose to participate into help the city, be it education, encouraging companies to embrace philanthropy or defining a housing agenda that we can help support for example helping the Mayor with legislation in Sacramento to stopping Ellis Act evictions. You are being disingenuous by spreading false information about who we are and what we represent.

Since Alex provided no evidence to back up his claim that I've been disingenuous regarding, I have no idea what he's referring to. My followup note to him:

I have not been disingenuous at all. Just trying to get answers from a group that has tremendous influence over public policy. You have chosen not to address my outstanding question of why the committees are not open to the public and you expect me and others to just accept the decisions your making and ideas you're pushing at City Hall. One of the reasons why there is so much anger from regular folks at Big Tech and their PR agents like you, not to mention the justifiable demonizing and blockading of Google buses and support among those facing eviction and all, is because we don't have a seat at your table. 

That brought forth this reply from Alex:

I am glad to share with you what we are working on Michael.  It is meaningful and substantive and we are working with reputable partners like the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code, SFUSD, and San Francisco State University to build a model of a local jobs pipeline which will connect under served, historically disconnected students to training, mentorship and opportunities for future employment.  There are plenty of seats of the table Michael, we are working with entities who share an approach of working within and for the community.

Still no answers about the January meetings they were supposed to hold and what was on the agenda, nothing regarding the question about why the public can't be allowed to engage with's committees that are creating public policy, I said back to Alex. The engagement with those institutions is window-dressing and while laudable, are a distraction from the policy committees established with Mayor Lee, the Board of Supervisors and various department heads.

What happened at Ron Conway's public policy meetings with City officials and others in January?

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