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Mayor's press office may be subpoenaed for resisting Sunshine Ordinance document request

Members of the Sunshine Task Force voted 8-1 to forward to the San Francisco Ethics Commission an issue of determination as to what work product is protected under the Sunshine Ordinance.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Pat Murphy

July 26, 2006

The Mayor's Office of Communications (MOC) may find itself under subpoena for withholding material requested through the City's Sunshine Ordinance.

At issue are seven emails withheld from Supervisor Chris Daly as part of a package of information sought under the ordinance by Daly's legislative aide John Avalos.

The request targeted MOC Peter Ragone's communications regarding an ordinance and a ballot measure authored by Daly.

Both required prominent notification to potential buyers of Tenancy-In Common (TIC) properties of any evictions to seniors or the disabled in property history.

Mayor Gavin Newsom vetoed the ordinance prompting Daly to place a similar requirement on the June 2006 ballot which voters approved.

Ragone became involved in the controversy after a report first appearing in BeyondChron.org identified Ragone as buyer of a TIC condominium where eviction of a disabled woman once occurred.

At that time, potential properties buyers received notice of such previous evictions as part of many buyer notifications but they were not as prominent as Daly legislation required.

When the matter came to light Ragone told the San Francisco Chronicle that buyer notifications Ragone had received were contradictory as to whether evictions had occurred under the state Ellis Act.

'"When there's conflicting information, I assumed it was Ellis Acted,'" Ragone told the Chronicle.

Ragone's participation in forming Newsom Administration TIC buyer notification policy would be a conflict of interest, Daly contended to the Task Force Tuesday.

"There were reports... Mr. Ragone was involved in a dispute over Tenancy-In Common that he may have been able to purchase and there was also a report... that Mr. Ragone was involved in policy discussion involvement in policy formation within the Mayor's Office," Daly told Task Force members.

Supervisor Chris Daly

The MOC maintains seven of Ragone's emails meet Sunshine Ordinance exemption criteria due to their draft status.

However, the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance Task Force last night concluded criteria may not have been met.

"We cannot determine that they are drafts," stated Task Force chair Doug Comstock.

"We cannot determine that they are not drafts because we do not have them in front of us."

Sunshine Task Force Chair Doug Comstock

Without access to those emails to make its own determination, the Task Force voted 8-1 to forward the issue to the San Francisco Ethics Commission for investigation and possible action.

The commission holds subpoena power to compel document release while the Task Force does not. Possible action by the commission includes referral to the local District Attorney or state Attorney General for prosecution.

Even so, the Task Force vote included a provision to withdraw referral to the commission if the emails are released soon.

Additionally, MOC deputy director Jennifer Petrucione noted the Mayor's Office would consider release if portions of the emails are redacted - a resolution suggested by Task Force Member Sue Cauthen.

Mayor's Office of Communications Deputy Director Jennifer Petrucione




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