Blogging Bayport Alameda

September 27, 2016

TS and the no sunshine band

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:07 am

So there is yet another article in the Alameda Magazine about Mayor Trish Spencer.  It’s not available on line, but let me give you the nutmeat of the piece and more details provided once the article goes on line.  However you really should be thanking the Alameda Magazine for their in-depth reporting since the Alameda Journal is spread too thin and the Alameda Sun, well, it’s the Alameda Sun.

The title “Little Miss Sunshine” so, as you can guess, this will be about the Sunshine Ordinance.

Basically during the training for the Mayor’s Economic Advisory panel which the members were trained on all Sunshine Ordinance and Brown Act goodness a question was asked about whether or not emails between the members of the economic advisory panel were considered public record.  The short answer is, they are.

But here’s what Trish “Transparency” Spencer told the panel to do in order to avoid making her communications with City Staff open to the public: pick up the phone.   Here’s the exact quote from the Alameda Magazine piece:

“Personally, I don’t put anything in an email that I’m not comfortable having the whole world see. So personally, if I have a question for staff, I’m much more likely to pick up the phone and call staff and ask the question that way, and there are things like that that can make it work.”

She later urged, “Get your information that way.”

So what Trish Spencer is urging her own Economic Advisory panel to do is to skirt around public record requirements by ensuring that they don’t leave a paper trail that can be requested by the public in the future.

But should we really be surprised?  After all this is the same elected official that appointed to the Open Government Commission a person who opined  that the City Council should be able to deliberate behind closed doors prior to the City Council meeting for the sake of expediency, exactly:

I am the Vice-Chairperson of the City of Alameda Open Government Commission that is charged with monitoring the Brown Act and the City’s Sunshine Ordinance.
The opinion expressed below is my own and not an expression of the Commission.

I have been active in communicating with City Council members for the past year and a half and have felt very constrained in trying to buld a consensus because of the the inability of more than two members to discuss an issue. How the legislature can impose such a draconian limitation on local officials while exempting themslves from the same requirements defies any logical explanation. There should be no restriction on any number of council members meeting informally to discuss any matter or even to propose specific legislation and work out the languqge before it reaches the public meeting stage, so long as the the final vote is taken in public after the required prior notice of presentation and public input.

The current system has Councilmembers acting as islands, rather than intelligent candidly interacting human beings. I fully agree with you that it leads to Council being dependent on staff who have no retriction whatsoever on their discourse with eachother. It also leads to interminably long council meetings where language is developed on the fly in the course of the meeting. The late night meetings are much more damaging to the notion of transparency than unlimited private discourse between council members. [emphasis added]

If these are the folks advising Trish Spencer, it’s no wonder that she takes the view that her communications should be made so that they avoid public scrutiny.

The audio from that meeting supposedly will be available at this link but it’s not up yet.



  1. It’s naive to think that most people in public office don’t do exactly that. Most are too clever to admit it, however.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — September 27, 2016 @ 6:32 am

    • Most people don’t publicly advise their economic advisory panel on how to skirt public record laws either.

      Comment by Lauren Do — September 27, 2016 @ 6:39 am

    • Before there were emails, EVERYONE in public office “did exactly that” (use the phone). Even the ones who weren’t clever.

      Comment by vigi — September 27, 2016 @ 9:53 am

      • vigi, Trish is not as old as you and a lawyer, so she should know better.

        Comment by Jake — September 27, 2016 @ 5:29 pm

  2. It starts at the top. Hillary Clinton deleted emails

    Comment by Captain Obvious — September 27, 2016 @ 7:30 am

  3. Picking up the phone calls instead of penning emails is now evading the Sunshine ordinance? OK, new rule, no using the phone; instead, you shall will sit down, back straight, compose the email, spell check and send.

    I like Steve Tavares, but he must be holding back the good stuff for the print edition.

    (speaking of which, on reflection I now think the Rebel Yell offer might have come off as stingy, not as a bargained price, but in and of itself)

    Comment by MP — September 27, 2016 @ 7:40 am

    • I just wanted something that’s cheap but drinkable neat. EW White Label qualifies, so does Barton but it’s hard to find.

      Comment by dave — September 27, 2016 @ 8:48 am

      • I have EW SB on hand, but not White.

        Comment by MP — September 27, 2016 @ 11:19 am

        • What year(s) do you have?

          Comment by dave — September 27, 2016 @ 11:24 am

        • 05 06 07

          Comment by MP — September 27, 2016 @ 2:40 pm

        • I loved the 04, liked the 05, but found the 06 underwhelming. Smooth but thin, forgettable. How’s the 07?

          Comment by dave — September 27, 2016 @ 5:19 pm

        • Evan Williams Black Label was my grandfather’s daily dram, so the brand will always have a place in my heart. He made it to 92, and moved his lawn & then had one on the rocks the day before he died.

          Comment by dave — September 27, 2016 @ 5:46 pm

        • The EV is, as yet, unopened. Safeway had them all on sale a month or so ago. I liked both 07 and 05 and not sure I could blindly distinguish either except, perhaps, side by side, as it often seems to depend on conditions and what you can coax out of ‘em. Had to fly back and forth to LA a couple of weeks ago and WT101 kept my interest as I read, though the flight ended before it did.

          Comment by MP — September 27, 2016 @ 7:25 pm

        • *the EV06

          Comment by MP — September 27, 2016 @ 7:26 pm

        • * well, you know what I meant

          Comment by MP — September 27, 2016 @ 7:26 pm

        • E.W. B.L. commercial sighting, middle of fourth inning. That’s a first.

          Comment by MP — October 5, 2016 @ 6:45 pm

  4. While I want to be outraged, I agree with Denise — common practice, not usually shared in a public forum. So that leaves me with, “Our mayor doesn’t understand how and when to talk about what and why,” which isn’t really new, is it?

    Meanwhile, it makes me wonder about the legality of a conference call that’s not recorded; is that covered in the Brown Act?

    Comment by purp — September 27, 2016 @ 8:06 am

    • Of course a violation is a violation whether it is revealed or not. I can’t remember if the Brown Act is proportional and relates to the size of the legislative body or it it’s as simple as no more than two. There is serial violation…. talking or emailing different people at different times. I think everybody on HAB took it seriously, although one member who was a place holder for Measure A voted no on everything, but that didn’t require talking to anybody. Mayor Johnson actually asked him to step aside after a couple terms. He was actually snide and insulting now that I think about it. A real creep. But that’s a digression. It takes real arrogance or ignorance to be the mayor and to flaunt an end run around this law. It’s there for a reason. I can’t believe the panel actually had trouble with the law. You can discuss anything with anybody in OPEN session. Just wait for the meeting, or pick a best buddy to strategize if you must. You can just wink at others.

      Comment by MI — September 27, 2016 @ 9:49 am

      • From the snippet we have read of the reporting, it doesn’t sound like flaunting the Brown Act. If she were advising people to engage in group or serial phone calls among a quorum of those with votes on a voting body (or wherever the Brown act draws the line in terms of quantity of members and type of body, e.g. does it apply to the Economic Advisory Board?), that would, of course, be a big problem. But I took from the piece that the calls in question were inquiries or questions to City staff, which I don’t think is a Brown Act issue. If the law under the Sunshine ordinance is that these inquiries must be made in writing, then encouraging people to do that which must be in writing over the phone would also be encouraging someone to not adhere to the law. In any event, from what I’ve read recently, there probably isn’t much action being taken by city staff on the basis of phone call, winks or nods from mayor or her appointees.

        Comment by MP — September 27, 2016 @ 11:16 am

      • It is proportional and relates to the size of the legislative body.

        Comment by Mike McMahon — September 28, 2016 @ 7:15 am

        • Good link. thank you. What about a well-financed, well-organized lobby that is well known to the legislative body and its members? Are their conversations with members of a legislative body about legislative matters potentially covered by the Brown Act? Is there a line between, “I can count on your vote, can’t I” and “X, Y, and Z have already pledged their votes, can I count on you too?”

          Comment by MP — September 28, 2016 @ 8:54 am

  5. It’s good to hear the phone ring. Person to person, voice to voice.

    Comment by A Neighbor — September 27, 2016 @ 8:57 am

  6. Well, this is news. Calling a city staffer on the phone in order to get information is now “avoiding public scrutiny” and “violating the transparency laws”? Gee what did we ever do before emails? How did government even function [for over 200 years] without them? It’s a good thing Steven Tavares was born yesterday.

    Next you’ll be wanting the Mayor to set up a videolink to her bedroom. No privacy for our city officials! Nope, none at all.

    Comment by vigi — September 27, 2016 @ 9:49 am

  7. This “Green” operations strategy has all the hallmarks of Republican obstructionism and will to remain non-transparent with an un-spoken intent to do I-don’t-know-what. Our City surely deserves greater integrity and vision. ….I guess that’s been an on-going theme.

    Comment by Gabrielle "Gaby" Dolphin — September 27, 2016 @ 10:31 am

  8. If a city staffer is uncomfortable with off-the-record inquiries, all they need to do is document the date, time and take contemporary notes about the conversation. Allow the phone call to go to voicemail and “time stamp it.” Government executives are being trained at various seminars on how to get around Sunshine laws and telephone calls are the best “get-arounds.”

    Comment by Basel — September 27, 2016 @ 1:20 pm

  9. Put me in the Matt Yglesias camp when it comes to disclosure rules around email.

    Written communication is automatically captured and easier to disclose than phone calls which are not routinely recorded. Email has replaced phone calls. Tweets have replaced utterances. Everything is permanent now. We need some combination of changes in how we evaluate written statements and which ones we expect to be part of the public record. People in government do need to be able to have frank conversations without fearing every word belongs to the taxpayers.

    Comment by BMac — September 27, 2016 @ 3:20 pm

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