SF debates use of cell phones during meetings

March 9, 2010 7:19:25 PM PST
Local governments in the Bay Area and around the country are trying to figure out how to balance the need for transparency and open government with new technology.

If you ever attend a meeting at San Francisco City Hall, technology is on full display. Lawmakers are often busy texting, tweeting and e-mailing. The communication could certainly be about the business at hand, but Mayor Gavin Newsom, who admits he is overly exuberant about tweeting, believes it is time for more transparency.

"You watch some of these commission meetings and people on Blackberries and think, 'What's going on? Are you disinterested or so interested, is someone feeding you talking points, ideas or amendments?' and that's not right," Newsom said.

The mayor says he started thinking about it after attending the recent swearing-in of California's newest Assembly speaker. John Perez, D-Los Angeles, announced a new rule banning text-messaging from lobbyists to state lawmakers while they are at work.

Alex Clemens is a lobbyist and a regular at San Francisco City Hall. He has used his Blackberry to connect with board members, but says not about government.

"I haven't really ever contemplated (and that may sound funny from a lobbyist) texting a lawmaker as they did city business, but I don't think in San Francisco most advocates think they need to do that," Clemens said.

Supervisor Bevan Dufty does not believe there is a problem with texting.

"I don't see it as any different than if someone came to the rail and offer some additional information, or if there's an item coming up at a commission and you might ask a question; I think it's reasonable," he said.

But across the bay, San Jose's City Council has approved a policy requiring members to disclose all communications from text messages, e-mails and cell phones during meetings.

Newsom is not set on how he would like his city to proceed -- Will there be restrictions on devices, or just the usage? How do you enforce the regulations? He has asked the city attorney to take a look.


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