Harbor Commission Responds to Resident's Letter About Records Disposal, More Transparency

Half Moon Bay resident George Muteff sent the following letter to the San Mateo County Harbor Commission, asking the board to pull Item No. 6 off the agenda for tonight's Harbor District meeting in South San Francisco at the Municipal Services Building. His reasons are outlined in his letter below. 

Consent Agenda Item No. 6 is related to the Harbor District's records management and disposal policy. At tonight's meeting, the Board will review and consider a list of documents slated for disposal. Following Muteff's letter is the response from Robert Bernardo, President of San Mateo County Harbor Commission, concerning this request.

January 14, 2014
Attn: Harbor Commission President Bernardo 
RE: Item 6 of the 01-15-2014 Harbor District Board meeting - Records Management: Destruction of Records

Dear President Bernardo (et all),

I am writing this to express my deep concern with recent actions taken by the Harbor Board (Board) over the course of the last year, culminating (so far) with this, Item 6, on the 01-15-2014 Harbor District (HD) Agenda; Destruction of Records. 

As much as I’d like to attend and present the Board with my concerns personally, I will unfortunately not be able to attend, hence this communication. It is my hope that you and your fellow Commissioners heed the request that myself and others are proposing;  please pull Item 6 from this Agenda - please do not take action on this matter at this time. Following is the background and supporting data to justify removing Item 6 from the 01-15-14 Agenda at this time.

You may remember me from my comments suggesting that the vacated HB seat (due to death) should go to the voters as opposed to being appointed by the Board (Comfort Inn meeting). You may also remember that my argument, to place the seat on the ballot at the earliest convenient time, was based on the fact that the vacated term was as close to the full term as it could have been (almost the full 4 years) and that the Board should be made up of elected officials as opposed to appointed (by the Board). Your predecessor, Mr Tucker was Board President at the time.

Over the recent months the HB has set several disturbing Policies that have gotten the attention of the electorate (and others). Taken singularly, each one is cause for concern; but collectively, they certainly appear very damning. With your permission, I’ll be blunt in my recantation, from my perspective: First, pitch a fit about a Board member asking questions and shut that down / next, curtail public input / next, curtail member input / next, cease all video recordings of the Agency meetings / next, move to Action Minutes (veiling Item discussion) - and now, for the cherry on the cake, destroy Agency records. Certainly you can clearly see cause for concern from those your Board serves. It is abundantly clear to the public that the Board is circling the wagons against its constituents. It should be equally obvious to this Board that this Board’s actions have created a breach of trust with your constituents. The more than obvious question is - Why? What is it that this Board is working so feverishly to hide &/or protect? 

When one further considers the recent questionable financial discoveries, the benefits package Board members enjoy, and the rancor both with the public and between your own Commissioners, one can clearly understand the the erosion of faith by the electorate and that the HB has some major issues that need to be dealt with.

I am and always have been an advocate for transparency, thereby creating a genuine partnership between governing boards and their constituents. Transparency is a lot more than a word found under T in Webster’s. It is a mindset, a core value, a necessity in good governance for achieving the best results for all. Every governing board for every district should work with those they represent, not at odds with them and most certainly not in a vacuum. It is the public, after all, whose funding pays for every stitch of everything the governing boards claim and use. If nothing else, transparency should be a good example of governing boards respecting the public that funded their district and elected the members. Honesty is the key - both between the public and its elected and between the elected and the public.

I am requesting that Item 6 be pulled from the 01-15-14 meeting Agenda. Further, and I realize how critical document management can be, this Item should be publicly vetted at both HD meeting locations, casting the net as broadly as possible to collect all the public input possible Before action is taken on this matter. I would tag it as ‘due diligence’ on the part of the District.

Please understand; I am grateful for the concept, efforts and intent of most governing boards, even in disagreement; but when public perception of bad practices by their board(s) coupled with the specific actions of this HB (described above) are combined, as they are here, it would be my suggestion that fixing that set of issues takes precedent over all HB business, as opposed to furthering the hole you seem to find yourselves in. 

How can a Board be effective in doing their charge when they are too busy circling their wagons and dealing with damage control?

As you will note, I am cc’ing your peers, all SMC Board of Supervisors and our local press. It has been my experience that folks seem to be more careful when others are looking over their shoulder. I am truly sorry it has come to this and wish you only the best, but I am doing here what I feel is the right thing to do and what I feel I have to do.

It is my fervent hope that you and your peers take the same posture. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Respectfully submitted,

George Muteff, Half Moon Bay

Reply letter from Robert Bernardo, President of San Mateo County Harbor Commission, sent on January 14, 2014:

Dear Mr. Muteff,

On behalf of the San Mateo County Harbor Commission, thank you for writing and sharing your concerns about Consent Agenda Item #6 related to the Harbor District's records management and disposal policy.

As you may know, it's a common practice for most government agencies to have a records management and disposal policy. The Harbor District's policy comes from a Board resolution adopted back in July 17, 1996 (Resolution #01-14) which provides a formal procedure for proper records disposal. 

Records disposal is a routine activity, and the Harbor District reviews its documents about every couple of years, with the most recent being in 2007 and 2010. The ultimate goal of this policy is to dispose of records which are no longer useful in conducting the District's day-to-day business. We contract with a professional shredding company to handle proper disposal. 

Per our policy, some documents that are never destroyed include: Board minutes, Board agendas and personnel files. The California Government Code (Sec. 34090) requires that all public records be retained for 2 years. We are in compliance with legal mandates such as this one. 

At tomorrow's (1/15) meeting, the Board will review and consider the list of items slated for disposal. Those specific items are listed in the Board packet (also available on the District's Web site) for members of the public to review as well. 

I hope this better explains our policy and the need to dispose of documents periodically. 

As always, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and insights with the Harbor District. 

Warmest regards,
Robert Bernardo, President, San Mateo County Harbor Commission

The Board of Harbor Commissioners meet tonight, Jan. 15, 2014, at 6 p.m. at the Municipal Services Building, 33 Arroyo Drive, South San Francisco. A copy of the agenda can be found here.
Brian Ginna January 16, 2014 at 12:24 PM
There is no need for a Harbor District Commission. The entire operation should be run by San Mateo County. Waste of resources. The documents and the whole charade with the meetings are a waste of time. True reform means doing away with it.
George Muteff January 16, 2014 at 04:57 PM
Brian, I can certainly see validity in your comments. You are not alone in that line of thought, probably because there is merit. However (always with the but..), I might suggest that if we were to disband the Harbor Board, or even the Harbor District at this point, we would be dumping all their issues (and there are a ton of those) on the BOS. If I were a Supervisor on the BOS, I think I'd be looking to take someone's head off if I received this unwanted, complex mess. What you propose should be vetted by the BOS and any other interested parties, but perhaps the discussion on that would be clearer and easier if we were to straighten out the mess first, thereby presenting the BOS with something a bit more palatable. Just a thought.
Alana Gomez January 17, 2014 at 07:56 AM
The subject I am going to bring up here is not about public records but since we have the ear of the Harbor Board through this website, I want to question why the Harbor District doesn't promote the use of the relatively new Ferry services at Oyster Point and expanded availability to South San Francisco residents and nearby communities that would enjoy a ride along the bay? This new service, which I was happy to see, was initially aimed almost exclusively for commuter use by Genentech and East 101 employees from the East Bay and back with stops in San Francisco, and the expansion of 2 extra trips per week later in the day was supposed to increase ridership. outside of the limited times of operation (early mornings and late evening). Also, increased ridership could not happen because of the small publicity announced or promoted by the Harbor District Board, the agency which oversees the ferry service. If there were more road signs and local media exposure to the increased services announced at schools and neighboring communities,promoting this wonderful use of public tax payer money, I am sure it would increase ridership and improve the Harbor District's public's perception that its a do nothing public body. I am asking through this venue that the HBD place this item on its agenda to consider more advertising(ie: more road signs and local print media) of the ferry along the bay to at least Millbrae, and increase the desired ridership. Its a shame to let this great service go unnoticed with rows of empty seats as it appears, because of poor public exposure by the agency that is supposed to oversee it. Please do something to keep the ferry popular. -SSF Resident


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