Why can't Sup. Tang seem to keep track of her own office records?
Why can’t Sup. Tang seem to keep track of her own office records?

By Richard Knee

DECEMBER 11,2014 — Katy Tang, the interim president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, has been cited by the city’s transparency watchdog commission for tardy, incomplete delivery of some requested documents — and she could wind up in much hotter water if it turns out that she deleted or destroyed public records before state law allows.

It’s hard to imagine why Tang would delete documents that amounted to routine emails to and from her office. But she insists that the records don’t exist — and there’s clear evidence that they do.

The state Government Code makes it a felony punishable by one to three years in prison for public officials to delete or destroy records less than two years old. The city Administrative Code mandates that records be kept for at least five years, though it prescribes no penalty for a violation.

The problem came to light Dec. 3, when a representative from a journalists’ organization told the task force that some documents he had requested from Tang were missing from a 14-page stack that her office provided in response.

Thomas Peele, an investigative reporter for the Bay Area News Group who co-chairs the Freedom of Information Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California chapter, said he had seen copies elsewhere of documents he had requested but not received from Tang.

He had sought copies of all communications mentioning the task force or nominees that Tang had sent or received between Nov. 1, 2013 and last 15, 2014.

Tang told the task force in a memorandum that she had provided Peele with all responsive records in her office, something her aide Dyanna Quizon reiterated during the task force’s hearing on Peele’s complaint.

But Peele said he knew of numerous documents that were not among those Tang provided. “She did not include an email from [Californians Aware director] Terry Francke endorsing Josh Wolf,” Peele told me. “She did not include an email from the Rules Committee clerk containing bios of the nominees to be considered on 5/15. She did not include an email from Wolf to her staffer, even though I asked for staff emails. I don’t know if I have everything. Her response was so poor, and the request covered six months, so it seems logical to think that other responsive records exist or existed.”

Peele’s rebuttal was not the only indication of missing records. Late during the hearing, Wolf showed his fellow task force members a copy of a note he had sent to Tang that was not among the documents provided to Peele. The note was about Wolf’s own candidacy for a task force seat.

Quizon said also that copies of all communications to and from Tang’s office were available in the office of the Board of Supervisors clerk. But Peele said Tang’s staff had not informed him of that fact.

We attempted to determine whether Tang or other supervisors routinely copy their records to the board clerk, and what if any retention, backup, storage and deletion/destruction policies are in place, but neither Tang nor the clerk’s office responded to our requests for comment.

It’s possible that Tang’s office somehow missed or lost the relevant documents – although other city officials manage to comply with far more extensive and complex requests. And it’s not clear what possible motivation she would have for destroying records that were simply part of routine correspondence.

Missing records aside, the task force found that Tang had twice violated the Sunshine Ordinance, the city’s voter-passed open-government law, in other ways, namely tardy and incomplete delivery of the records Peele had sought and failure to steer him to where he might find the absent documents.

Peele requested the documents May 15, 2014, immediately after the Rules Committee, on which Tang sits, stalled on eight of the 11 task force appointments, including those of the two applicants that the local SPJ chapter had nominated.

The committee conducts initial vetting of city board and commission applications.

The Sunshine Ordinance and the state Public Records Act normally give public agencies up to 10 days to respond to records requests, but the ordinance requires a response within one business day to any “Immediate Disclosure Request” (IDR) that is clearly and conspicuously labeled as such.

Peele faxed an IDR to Tang’s office late in the day on May 15 after the Rules Committee’s stall. Tang said in her memorandum to the task force that she did not respond to Peele’s request until May 20 because no one in her office had seen the fax before then. Task force members said that did not excuse her tardiness in delivering the documents.

It took pressure by SPJ NorCal, the League of Women Voters and citizen activists to get the Rules Committee and the board to move forward on the task force appointments in May and June. The league and New America , a group of minority-owned news outlets, each nominate one task force applicant, and their nominees were among those affected by the stall.

Some on the board, including then-president David Chiu, harbored a grudge since the task force found in September 2011 that he and Supervisors Eric Mar, Scott Wiener and had violated open-meeting laws by ramrodding a Parkmerced residential redevelopment contract with 14 pages of amendments that Chiu had slipped in at the last minute.

Richard Knee is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist and sunshine activist.


  • Sam

    Total horseshit. Any official is entitled to use discretion as to what records may or may not exist. Why isn’t Tim asking for the Campos files to be revealed rather than Tang? Like I need to ask. Because Tang can actually think for herself rather than tow the socialist line

    A new low for 48 hills. Tim, respect bro, but you are better than this. Please do not make local politics about personalities and stereotypes

    • pam

      Campos has nothing to do with this and the story is not about any files that Tim Redmond asked to see. Learn to read for comprehension and then you might understand the issues at hand. Thomas Peele asked Katy Tang’s office for records, as is his (and your) right under the Sunshine Ordinance (her office is NOT entitled to discretion in this matter; the public has a right to know) and Tang’s office did not comply with the request fully. That’s the issue. It has nothing to do with anyone thinking for themselves or your imaginary socialist line.

  • Tech Support

    Lost emails? Check the spam folder.

    • Sam

      How many SEIU emails have gone missing that 48 hills apparently doesn’t care about?

      • Dave

        It is silly. It is also impressive that Tang has been BOS President for a couple of weeks already and this is the best that 48 Hills can do in terms of character assassination. She must be really good. This is a another good argument to make her the permanent BOS President.

  • John Zwolinski

    “And it’s not clear what possible motivation she would have for destroying records that were simply part of routine correspondence.”

    So Supervisor Tang did not deliver certain mundane, routine, essentially irrelevant-to-any-issue e-copies of her correspondence? This story has no “there” there. “Destroying” records? Ridiculous.

  • Ooooh, Ms. Perfect messed up?

  • Bruce B. Brugmann

    Hurray for the Sunshine Task Force, Tom Peele and his SPJ-FOI committee, Rick Knee, and Tim Redmond’s excellent website for illustrating once again the absolutely irreplaceable value of San Francisco’s Sunshine Ordinance and the people’s court it establishes as the Sunshine Task Force.

    As Knee reports ,the task force found Sup. Katy Tang violated the ordinance on two counts of tardy and incomplete delivery of email records–and possible illegal deletion of many more.
    But the key political point is that the task force demonstrated it is back in action after the Anti-Sunshine Gang on the board, including Tang, were doing their damndest to wreck the task force.
    The Gang, led by Sups. David Chiu and Scott Wiener, were angry because the task force had outed the supervisors for ramming the Park Merced project through on a 6-5 vote after Chiu slipped in 14 pages of developer-originated amendments. The Gang retaliated, the sunshine activists fought back, and the Tang votes were a good sign for open government in the city.

    I covered some of the blow by blow fighting in my blog on the former Bay Guardian website.
    http://www.sfbg.com/bruce/2014/06/13/extra-extra-sunshine-advocates-beat-anti-sunshine-gang-city-hall. Yours for more sunshine in City Hall, b3

  • Interested party

    The statement that “Any official is entitled to use discretion as to what records may or may not exist” is an incredibly ignorant statement. Records retention is not the least bit discretionary and a public official has no discretion in what they retain and must release under the law. Those matters are set in state statute. and city code. And Tim was not the requesting party of Tang’s email.
    Very legitimate story by Mr. Knee.

    • Sam

      Wrong, there is always discretion with public officials and we elect them precisely to have the ability to know what to disclose and what to not disclose

      • Richard Knee

        Sam, have you read the Sunshine Ordinance or the state Public Records Act? Are you familiar with the history gave rise to those laws? Do you not agree that government secrecy is a grave threat to democracy?

        • Dave

          Someone who truly cares about Sunshine would be concerned when it is used as a harassment tool. Which is what this sounds like. So her assistant didn’t turn over her copy of an email from the Rules Committee? How many other copies of that email exist on the city’s servers? How much time and staff cost are supervisors supposed to spend tagging emails for any conceivable future Sunshine request?

          Richard Knee has been on the Sunshine Task Force and has seen far worse violations get dismissed by Ethics as insignificant.

          The items mentioned in this post would barely register and would never even be brought up if there wasn’t a sudden need to ‘get’ Katy Tang.

          Richard Knee shouldn’t think of himself as a sunshine advocate; not if he allows himself to be used as a tool in an obvious hatchet job.

        • Don’t bother engaging him. He destroys most of the threads with his toxic remarks and attacks and Tim doesn’t bother to ban him.

          And obviously, he knows nothing about the Sunshine Ordinance.

          BTW, good article! I’m sure that the IT department has copies of all emails. Rarely is anything truly deleted.

          • SciLaw

            It doesn’t matter if people misuse the Sunshine Ordinance or the State Public Records Act, if there’s no confidentiality bound to the e-mail by a third party (even then, they can only object and ask for a redaction), the local/state government is obligated to produce it. E-mail between two Supervisors is covered by the ordinance and there’s no “discretion” in production.

            No matter your views on the matter, making factually incorrect remarks ruins the discourse.

  • Speaking of emails and elected officials,DA George Gascon’s office claims they have no non-privileged emails related to his reelection fundraiser on Nov 13. I’ve posted the invitation to the fundraiser, listing the names of ADAs for the DA’s campaign, at which other ADAs were asked for donations:

    You’ll also find the DA’s letter stating no public records exist about the fundraiser at the link.

    Did you know the head of the City Attorney’s Office for the Public Integrity Unit, which is charged with investigating wrongdoing of elected officials such as Gascon, is David Pfeifer? The same David Pfeifer who for more than 2 decades worked at the DA ‘s office.

    Nope, nothing to see here how the DA claims no records and the CA isn’t investigating the fundraiser. After all, Gascon said he was really, really, really sorry and his campaign consultant stated his supporters were full of good intentions.

  • Bruce B. Brugmann

    Sam the Anonymous Trust City Hall and Trust PG&E doesn’t seem to be much of a policy. B3

  • Supervisor Katy Tang’s delinquency in responding to records requests related to the Sunshine Task Force appointment process is not surprising. She tried to obstruct the approval of nominees from the Society of Professional Journalists, League of Women Voters and New America Media by imposing a ridiculous litmus test: all applicants had to promise to abide by the City Attorney’s advice in Sunshine disputes. For Tang, City Hall is omniscient; the public is an irritant.

    • Wow, I didn’t know that. Do you have a link regarding this?

      • B. Brown

        Gary, Just Google ‘Katy Tang litmus test for Sunshine Ordinance Task Force SF CA’ and you’ll find the info you seek.

  • jch

    What the story and some of the more perceptive comments suggest is that we’ve got a wrestling match going on over open records in San Francisco. With the amount of money sloshing around here that should be no surprise. Nor should it be a surprise that sunshine advocates are up against Board members who oppose open disclosure. Not an auspicious start for Katy Tang.