The Grid

The Grid Endorses! You Must Obey!
For several decades, San Franciscans were told, over and over by pols and the press, that our former Assembly speaker was a highly sophisticated thinker, a real charmer, a brilliant master of politics. It was a story line that made the city proud, and it was easy to believe. Willie Brown was miles away in the state capital.

But proximity to Willie has proved a disappointing experience. The truth of the matter: Willie Brown is crude and tiresome, largely devoid of charm and wit -- as David Brinkley might say, our mayor's a bore. He's a spendthrift huckster, to boot.

It gives us no pleasure to say this. We do so only to illustrate how routinely this city is lied to regarding its politics. San Francisco's addiction to hagiography becomes a special liability near election time, when the city's newspapers endorse, and political lying goes to nauseating extremes.

This city is famous for ax-grinding, tin-pot publishers who torture the truth for their own petty agendas and delusions of grandeur. Clip their endorsement sheets and carry them into the polls and you have unwittingly become the soldier in a campaign not of your making. You may be helping out a guy named Kopp or Burton or Brown, or some abhorrent political consultant whose only interest is folding money.

The Grid, on the other hand, is pure and clean. The Grid will never lie. The Grid won't bore you with candidates and ballot issues it finds dull. The Grid is a theoretical construct, a disembodied column incapable of venality. If the Grid endorses, you must believe. So repeat after us: We shall vote the Grid ticket! We shall ...

In May, Tara Shioya, a staff writer for SF Weekly, wanted to look at a report that summarized an investigation the city attorney's staff had made into allegations of overtime irregularities at the San Francisco Fire Department.

Shioya was not asking for a classified CIA briefing.
The report she wanted to see dealt with allegations of improper, perhaps illegal behavior by city employees. And the allegations were more than 2 1/2 years old.

When Shioya asked for the report, the City Attorney's Office could not possibly have thought that releasing it would impede an investigation; the city attorney's probe was long since complete.

At the time of Shioya's request, no one was suing the city over the report, or the investigation that spawned it.

In fact, Shioya's request, made under the state's public records law, was of the type that public attorneys routinely grant hundreds or even thousands of times each year across the country, not only because freedom of information laws require that such documents be released, but also because disclosure of the results of official investigation serves the public interest.

Without blinking an eye, though, City Attorney Louise Renne found a reason to sit on the report.

Renne said the report must be kept secret as a matter of "attorney-client privilege." Renne's was a specious legal argument. It's the argument Hillary Clinton used while trying to keep notes of her Whitewater meetings with White House lawyers secret. It's the argument the Supreme Court has rejected as absurd.

It's the argument that the officials at the Fire Department are Renne's clients, and ordinary citizens are not.

But Shioya was on a deadline, and litigation would have been time-consuming and expensive. So the report remained Renne's captive.

Without benefit of the report, Shioya wrote her story, part of which involved significant abuse of over-time at the Fire Depart-ment. It was a good story that spurred some immediate follow-up in the dailies.

Last week, some four months later, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the overtime problems at the Fire Department continue. The department, it seems, had spent its entire annual overtime budget -- something like $2.2 million -- in the first quarter of this fiscal year.

We applaud the Chronicle for continuing to follow the issue.
We wonder why Renne wants to smother that issue. We wonder why Renne is still sitting on a document that might help explain a long-running overtime fiasco that (the Chronicle reported) "surprised" the Board of Supervisors. We wonder why Renne does not hold a press conference to publicize her office's investigative report and the serious overtime irregularities at the Fire Department.

We wonder why anybody would vote to re-elect Louise Renne.
Renne has perverted the office of city attorney. In a variety of matters that include, but extend far beyond, public records law, she has repeatedly represented the specific, selfish interests of the officials and departments of city government over the general interests of the citizens who elect her.

So we have the dilemma: Louise Renne is a spineless disaster as city attorney. And Louise Renne is running unopposed for re-election next week.

The solution? Write in a vote for Moe, Larry, or Curley. If we're going to have a stooge for city attorney, let's at least get some laughs out of it.

The stakes:
The city treasurer invests all city funds in the hopes of making money for municipal government, oversees the collection of taxes, and participates in the issuance of municipal debt.

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