The aftershocks of San Francisco’s controversial redistricting process rumble on.
The Rev. Arnold Townsend, Ditka Reiner, Lily Ho, and Matthew Castillon violated the city’s public records laws, the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force found during an eight-hour meeting Tuesday night.
The four former members of the Redistricting Task Force failed to produce complete records in a timely fashion when answering public records requests, the task force concluded. It quickly became clear, however, that the finding will be difficult to enforce, given that the Redistricting Task Force has disbanded.
Complaints had been filed against Townsend and Reiner by Mission Local, and against all four former members by the government transparency advocate who goes by the alias Anonymoose.
“These rulings by the SOTF should remind all public officials, whether or not they are employees, that they need to be aware of and strictly comply with their transparency obligations,” said Anonymoose over text.
Each of the members found in violation voted in favor of the city’s new district map, which passed 5–4 in April. Townsend, Ho and Castillon were appointed by the mayor; Reiner was appointed by the Elections Commission.
During the spring, the Redistricting Task Force was dogged by accusations of political interference and opaque processes, with some members of the task force accusing their colleagues of being “bought and paid for,” “sellouts,” and calling the process a “sham.” Mission Local’s records requests were for a 30-hour period around what was perhaps the task force’s most dramatic moment, when four members walked out in protest at the process’ lack of transparency.
At a complaints committee hearing in June, former vice chair Reiner said she “made every attempt to be responsive” to requests. She did produce hundreds of emails in response to Mission Local’s request, but no texts or call logs. Former chair Townsend did not produce any records. At yesterday’s hearing, none of the former members turned up to offer a rebuttal to complaints.
The Sunshine Ordinance Task Force determined that it would order any missing records to be released. But with the Redistricting Task Force dissolved and its members no longer public officials, there was some confusion over where to send such an order.
“I still don’t think we know who, exactly, it is who would be trying to resolve these things,” said member Dean Schmidt.
Ultimately, they sent orders to the City Attorney’s Office, the Clerk of the Board’s Office, and the Department of Elections to search for records, in the hope that one of them was custodian of the task force’s records and would have access to their emails. Orders would also be sent directly to former members whose non-governmental contact details were known.
“I don’t think we’re likely to get a response,” said member Lila LaHood. “I don’t think we can force a response.”
If the requested records are not produced, the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force could decide to forward the violations to the Ethics Commission. But then, even if the violations were upheld, the Ethics Commission has limited recourse. According to Michael Canning, policy analyst for the commission, they cannot impose fines on anyone for breaking the Sunshine Ordinance. And there are few other enforcements available that would impact non-public officials.
Ethics Commission enforcement records suggest that in nine out of every 10 cases where Sunshine complaints are brought to the Ethics Commission, they are dismissed or no violation is found.
“Because the respondents found in violation are no longer in City service, it is unclear what the consequences might be for them,” said Anonymoose.
“It’s unclear whether the Ethics Commission will take up the violations if the former members don’t now comply given the SOTF’s rulings,” he added. “But given the Ethics Commission’s generally ignoring Sunshine breaches in the past, I wouldn’t count on it.”