Monday, April 27, 2015

Housing Rights Cmte's Sunshine Push & SF Housing Authority?

Painful as it was, back in October I had to acknowledge that a political adversary, Ken Cleaveland of the conservative Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club and govt affairs rep for the Business Owners and Managers' Association, had advocated for airing San Francisco Fire Commission meetings on SFGovTV at his first meeting in July as a member of the body.

The public record of the minutes from the July 10 commission meeting show he advocated for expanded govt sunshine questioning how to get hearing televised for taxpayers.

I recently began advocating with the San Francisco Housing Authority to get their meetings aired and received this note from Sara Shortt, the executive director of the Housing Rights Committee, about my project:

"We have been pushing for this for quite some time now, but have not been making much of an issue lately. Love that your picking it up as an issue. Any way we can help, we would be glad to. I feel very strongly about the need for this."

My reply to Sara:

"It would greatly help me to learn exactly where and when you or HRCSF advocated for TV airings, so I can cite the info, as I did with the fire commission when I learned commissioner Ken Cleaveland had started the push for them to get on TV at the July 10 SFFD meeting. Can your group roundup a few folks with cameras to be at the April meetings and put them or snippets on the web, please? Also, just sending a public letter to the SFHA building an email trail."

I didn't hear back from her. All too frequently, progressives in San Francisco especially working on housing and anti-gentrification issues in the Mission are not interested or willing to engage in ongoing debates with folks who have questions with or disagree about their agendas. Disappointed to see Shortt in this crowd.

Days after that exchange, I filed a public records request with the housing authority for emails from Shortt's group to the agency, the request was shared with her and she replied:

"I do not understand why you are requesting these. We email back and forth with the SFHA many times on a daily basis regarding client cases. You will be creating an enormous amount of work for people that we need to be doing their jobs, so that their tenants don't lose their housing. If they comply, you will be supplied with volumes of email correspondence about individual cases.

"How would that serve you? If you are trying to get documentation on a specific topic, you should at least narrow your request to be for emails pertaining to that topic. If you are trying to be helpful and work towards the same goals we are of getting taped commission meetings, than it seems strange that you wouldn't discuss this strategy with us first.

"My other concern is that a request such as this will increase paranoia among SFHA staff, who will in turn be far less forthcoming in email correspondence to us about cases, and thus make it much more difficult for us to resolve client issues. It is hard enough already to get SFHA cooperation and communication, believe me."

This was my response to Shortt:

"Not sure why you wanna be the buffer between a sunshine advocate and a public agency. Also quite surprised you would think any agency would not redact clients' info from responsive records. If SFHA is sharing deets on individual cases to sunshine advocates, complain to the agency about that violation of several laws.

"Not interested in your fears about creating paranoia at the agency and sense you are grasping at many straws to undermine my request or maintain a gatekeeper role for yourself. Who are you to advise me about transparency? I'm sunshining this City agency on several matters and I suspect as I move forward there's going to be resistance from you since you likely see the SFHA as your turf and who the hell am I to invade your domain.

"Regardless of motives or what you think is helpful regarding my advocacy, I asked you for evidence of when you or HRC/SF advocated in writing with SFHA about televising meetings. If you've been advocating on airings, where is the public record or sent written requests or expressed verbally at SFHA meetings, where the minutes should show the advocacy?

"I think there's a ton of bad progressive and housing advocacy that has directly contributed to the crises in the Mission and Citywide. You're seen as a go-to person for the press and some community 'organizers' and questions need to be raised about your leadership and others in professional capacities."

If the Housing Rights Committee has a public track records of pushing for expanding transparency at the housing authority, let's see it, please.

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