Monday, March 16, 2015

SF Fire Dept Votes to Move Meetings to City Hall

When Ken Cleaveland joined the fire commission in July 2014, he began a push to have their meetings televised on SF GovTV. There was strong resistance from San Francisco Fire Department brass and then-commission president Stephen Nakajo, who stated it was enough transparency for the taxpayers to read minutes weeks after meetings took place.

In October 2014, I began attending these meetings and used public comment to advocate for not only airing them but also moving the meetings to City Hall, making it more convenient for many members of the public to participate and observe the commission in action.

On March 12, this important commission voted 3 to 1 to move their meetings to City Hall starting in the new fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2015. President Andrea Evans and Commissioners Cleaveland and Francee Covington voted in favor of the motion, while Commissioner Michael Hardeman was against it and Commissioner Nakajo was absent.

To her credit, Chief Joanne Hayes-White had previously advocated for keeping the meetings at fire department headquarters at Second and Townsend Streets for the convenience of her brass and admin staff, but her thinking evolved over the months and she came out in favor of this leap forward for transparency. Big thanks to her and the commissioners who voted the right way.

The commissioners must wait for the Mayor and Board of Supervisors to approve the department's new budget, which includes funding for televising meetings, and for a camera-ready room at City Hall to open up.

As far as I know, the fire commission is the last major panel in San Francisco government to provide transparency via SF GovTV on cable and the web, and to hold hearings at City Hall.

I must point out that when London Breed was on the commission, I contacted her about bringing transparency to the panel and she did nothing to make that happen. Also, not one member of the Board of Supervisors, despite the fact that the fire department plays such a vital role in public safety and receives a huge chunk of the City budget, lifted a finger to get the fire commission to this point.

That said, it's not too late for the Supervisors to help the commission secure a convenient meeting slot at City Hall now or very soon in the new fiscal year.

Finally, many thanks to commission secretary Maureen Conefrey for keeping me and the public informed about the commission's work and deliberations.

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