Monday, June 09, 2014

Is SF City Attorney Herrera Hiding More Emails from NYT's Becker?

Matt Dorsey is a longtime gay political animal whose day job is serving as head of San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera's public affairs division, or, as I and other commonly refer to it, his publicity department and those who work in it as publicists.

On May 15, I filed an immediate disclosure request (IDR) with Dorsey for all of his emails and work calender, both are public documents created with City infrastructure, since February 1. As always, I requested an acknowledgement that he had received the IDR but a reply didn't come.

I believe Dorsey's emails and calender could show a whole lot more info about Herrera's heavy involvement promoting New York Times reporter Jo Becker's book "Forcing the Spring", which portrays him and his staffers as icons of the gay marriage movement.

Another staff publicist, Gabriel Zitrin, the next day sent this reply:
I confirm that I have now seen this request, but Matt has not been in the office since it was sent, and I expect won't be for the remainder of today. I don't know whether he is able to access his office e-mail remotely, but I am not able to access his office e-mail here.
So much ignorance expressed in so few sentences, sure registered on my skepticism radar and seem to be the start to a lawyerly effort to thwart complying with local sunshine mandating release of responsive records ten days after an IDR is filed. On May 21, Zitrin wrote:
Though this email does not constitute our office's official response to either of your outstanding public records requests, I hope to inform you as to their status. As I said in our phone conversation of earlier today, Matt Dorsey will be out of the office for a while. I estimate that he will return the first week of June, but there is no specific set date on his return.

In regards to your outstanding public records request that is specific to Mr. Dorsey, we will work immediately upon his return to respond to it as fast as possible. [...] Although it is doubtful that Mr. Dorsey has any documents responsive to that request either, we are unable to verify that at this time and will make every effort to do so immediately upon his return.
Have you ever heard of any City agency not know why their top publicist is out of the office or when he or she will return? I haven't. Regardless of Dorsey's absence, I pointed out to Zitrin that the City Attorney, especially, should have access to all public records recreated by his staff. I noted that such a policy should already exist in case a staffer unexpectedly passed away or was stuck back East in a blizzard.

About Dorsey being out of the office in the weeks leading up to the June 3 primary for officially unexplained reasons, the timing of his absence and the political calender for him, remember that he's active both in the city's LGBT Democratic clubs and is an elected member of the Democratic County Central Committee, is rather curious. I'm just saying.

More from Zitrin on May 22:
Let me address your concerns about Mr. Dorsey's absence. First, recent Sunshine requests for his documents have prompted us to look at what process we can employ to access an absent employee's records if need be. I have made an effort to contact him privately to inform him that his documents are called for.

Second, I understand that our given reasons for his absence are vague, but so must they be if they are not to implicate privacy concerns.

In an effort not to leave you in the lurch, we are continuing to try to contact him, and if that is unsuccessful, we will discuss other options for how to properly address your requests without simply advising you to wait until his return, especially as there is no set date for that return.
Well, nice to know the City Attorney is developing a process to access his staffers' public documents when his not sure why his publicist is out of the office and potentially also out of reach of modern communication devices.

The Bay Guardian is not known for taking the City Attorney's office to task over their abysmal record related to sunshine matters and the paper endorsed Herrera in his mayoral and reelection bids while also backing Dorsey's run for the DCCC. I wasn't at all surprised when their reporter Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez penned an article about Mayor Ed Lee deleting emails and other public records, and Rodriguez made passing reference to the City Attorney quietly signing off on the mayor's new records' retention policy.

As per their custom, the Bay Guardian found no reason to spank the City Attorney so I tweeted my criticism about this to Rodriguez and he proved useful in a minor way:

Interesting that we know Dorsey may have been on vacation, an apparent huge City secret to Herrera and Zitrin.

Last Friday, June 6, after more than fifteen days had elapsed since I filed my IDR for Dorsey's emails and calender, and with no followup reply from the City Attorney's office about the status of my request and no responsive records in hand, a violation of the sunshine law by the City Attorney (of all people!), I filed a complaint with the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force.

Frankly, I believe the City Attorney's top publicist and others in his office are hiding Dorsey's emails because they contain more potentially embarrassing details about how Herrera turned the office into a boutique public relations outfit for Jo Becker and her book.

It should embarrass the City Attorney that I've had to file this complaint and that he's not coughed up the requested public documents.

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