By Liam Dillon.
On the campaign trail, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer promised that his administration would be way more open than the disgraced mayor he was replacing.
“Kevin Faulconer believes restoring trust, integrity and confidence in City Hall starts with transparency,” Faulconer’s campaign website said.
Now more than eight months into his term, Faulconer has stalled on a number of key transparency promises. And Faulconer blames other city officials for his inability to follow through.
Faulconer isn’t sticking to his pledge to make all city communications related to public business public and he’s delayed an audit and task force to examine the city’s transparency policies. Let’s take them one by one.
Faulconer’s Not Making All City Communications Public
Faulconer pledged that all communications by city employees related to public business would be made public. That included emails and text messages from city employees’ private accounts and cell phones if the messages involved city business.
But at least one city department is refusing to turn over such information, and Faulconer isn’t doing anything about it.
The San Diego Police Department is refusing to turn over records related to public business from the private cell phone of Chief Shelley Zimmerman and any text messages from department brass. Even text messages from department-issued cell phones weren’t public records, officials said, because they were held by the city’s cell phone carrier, and not SDPD. (We sought these records to try to confirm claims made by congressional candidate Carl DeMaio about the SDPD investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by a former campaign staffer.)
These kinds of records are important because city leaders have a history of using private accounts to broker public deals or otherwise conduct business in an effort to shield them from public view. The chief of staff to former Mayor Jerry Sanders used private email to make a major agreement related to the Convention Center expansion. And the city refused to disclose former Mayor Bob Filner’s text messages during his sexual harassment scandal.
For these reasons, Faulconer said that all information related to public business would be made public – even if it came from city employees’ private accounts.
After SDPD denied our request, I took the department’s response to Faulconer, who is the boss of the police department. A mayoral spokesman told me that responses to public records were the city attorney’s problem, not Faulconer’s.
Yes, there are legal disputes both locally and at the state Supreme Court over information sent from public officials’ private accounts. But nothing is stopping the mayor from requiring all communications related to city business to be made public. He’s just decided not to do it.
“There is no new policy being proposed at this time,” Faulconer spokesman Matt Awbrey said.
The Public Records Audit Isn’t Happening
During the mayoral campaign, Faulconer also called for an independent audit of the city’s public record process. He even said one was already happening based on his direction as chairman of the city’s audit committee. But that wasn’t true. No audit was started nor is one scheduled. Faulconer blamed the auditor.
“Ultimately, it is up to the city auditor to decide whether to conduct the audit,” Faulconer’s office said in a statement.
That’s not entirely true, either. The audit committee, which is made up of City Council members and San Diego citizens, signs off on planned audits each year. If a public records audit was a priority for Faulconer or other city leaders, it would be happening.
Faulconer’s Public Records Task Force Is Stalled, Too
The mayor had pledged to empanel a task force of transparency experts to make recommendations on city open-government policies. That hasn’t happened yet.
Faulconer said he was waiting until he hires a chief data officer. This person would be the leader on open data initiatives, such as the online permit-tracking system Faulconer has unveiled, and serve on the transparency task force, Faulconer said. The chief data officer will be hired soon, the mayor said.
But in creating the chief data officer position, Faulconer killed another transparency job that Filner had created. Faulconer is eliminating the position of open government director. Faulconer said transparency duties will be shared among multiple departments.
Delaying initiatives like audits and task forces means serious delays for any demonstrable changes to take place. Often these initiatives are ways for politicians to make a show of doing something to resolve a problem while deferring any definitive action on it. In other words, they’re punting. But by not yet doing either of them, Faulconer hasn’t even snapped the ball on making the city’s open government processes better.