Since we’re hosting the All-Star Game tonight, I thought it might be appropriate to single out a midyear performance of someone who never stops, who swings for the fences and who hits to all departments.
And that would be San Francisco’s record-breaking record searcher, Kimo Crossman, the vexatious Sunshine Ordinance filer, who can stop whole agencies with a single request.
Normally, I am loathe to give column space to people who actually thrive on negative publicity, but in a town chock-full of folks who have nothing better to do than try to clog the wheels of government, Crossman still stands head and shoulders above the rest. He is the Barry Bonds of public records requesters, the Alex Rodriguez of data collectors — and like his heavy-hitting brethren, he does it simply for the love of the game.
Crossman is part of a group of people who are experimenting with a new form of government, the one that has to stop to answer questions about the previous set of questions just as more questions are filing in. He believes that he should be able to get any information he wants and in lickety-split fashion. And when he doesn’t, he files more requests and then more, until it becomes a vicious cycle in which departments lose track of the requests because they begin morphing into one another like a damaged computer program.
This week, our hero outdid himself, and that’s simply not easy to do. At the regular meeting of the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force committee tonight, Crossman is scheduled to be the focus of no less than six complaints he has filed. San Francisco’s holiest roller — in his never-ending search for what he considers a test for open, honest government — has filed nondisclosure complaints against the Office of the Mayor, the city attorney, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the Department of Technology and Information Services, the sheriff and the clerk of the Board of Supervisors.
It’s kind of like going 6-for-6 in a game, except this game is more like solitaire because Crossman plays against himself. Still, there’s no denying the entertainment value because he’s essentially turned the sunshine task force into his own arena for performance art.
Yet not everyone finds it so funny, since the public information officers for various city agencies are called before the panel to answer the complaints. And task force members show no signs of trying to rein in Crossman even though since his antics began their meetings have been extended an average of two hours. The Board of Supervisors has called for hearings on vexatious records requesters but so far no one has come forward to try to bring the shenanigans to a halt.
Matt Dorsey, spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office, has at least tried to put the lunacy into perspective. In what he called a “year-and-a-half onslaught against various city departments,’’ Dorsey wrote in a letter to Crossman recently that his office would limit the time it spends responding to his requests in order to perform its duties to the “750,000 San Franciscans who aren’t Kimo Crossman.”
“You will recall that I noted a 2,357-page record of your e-mail to me contained more than 621,000 words — nearly 56,000 more than Leo Tolstoy required to author ‘War and Peace,’’’ Dorsey wrote. “In the two months since then, you have added more than 44,000 words to that total.”
Last year, Crossman defended his actions to me, declaring that he wasn’t on a crusade. And perhaps he’s right — after 16 months, it’s probably more akin to a Messianic jihad.
Yet holy wars often have unintended consequences — many ardent backers of The City’s sunshine laws are worried that the vexatious filers are going to cause the ordinances to be rewritten or overturned by the courts. And it’s probably only a matter of time before there’s a voter backlash — especially when they realize that one person can tie up numerous departments with their over-the-top demands at a cost of hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars.
More importantly, the vexatious filers actually impede the flow of information from the government because for every legitimate public records request, city agencies must deal with 40 from a handful of individuals who are using the tool as a battering ram to harass and punish certain department officials.
But for now, the game goes on, to the sound of one hand clapping. And for the other 750,000 fans in San Francisco not named Kimo Crossman, all we can do is pray that at some point he gets the one thing he so desperately needs: a life.
Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (415) 359-2663.