Date: February 6, 2023
To: Members of the Ethics Commission
From: Michael Canning, Acting Policy and Legislative Affairs Manager
Re: AGENDA ITEM 9 – Discussion and possible action regarding the impact of the upcoming termination of the Governor’s COVID-19 emergency proclamation and the Mayor’s emergency order on current Ethics Commission hybrid meeting operations and whether to continue to resource and provide online and telephone conferencing services to facilitate remote public comment.
Summary and Action Requested
This memo provides a brief overview of the rules regarding Commission meetings that will be changing on March 1, 2023 and an analysis of the option before the Commission to continue remote public comment at meetings.
Staff recommends the Commission vote to direct Staff to continue offering remote public comment at Commission meetings going forward.
Emergency Rules Terminating at End of February 2023
After roughly three years, the Governor and the Mayor have announced that the COVID-19 emergences declared by their offices will be ending on February 28. During the declared period of emergency, special rules have governed the meetings of City bodies, including the Ethics Commission. Starting on March 1, these special rules will no longer be in place and most rules will revert back to their pre-pandemic status.
On January 10, the City Attorney’s Office published a memo detailing this change and setting forth the general legal rules that will govern the meetings of City bodies, including the Ethics Commission, beginning March 1. This memo from the City Attorney’s Office is included here as Attachment 1. The attached memo covers:
- Required In-Person Meeting Attendence for Commissioners: Beginning on March 1, the general rule going forward is that Commissioners will be required to be physically present for meetings and that there are only three narrow exceptions that may allow a Commissioner to attend a meeting remotely.
- Optional Remote Public Attendence and Public Comment: Going forward, there is neither a requirement nor prohibition on allowing members of the public to regularly attending meetings remotely and that each body may adopt its own policy regarding remote public participation.
- Other Meeting Rules Changing: Various other meeting rules are also being reinstated, including rules requiring public notice before special meetings or meetings in locations other than the body’s regular meeting place, requiring that public commenters on an agenda item receive equal time, and regarding gatherings of passive meeting bodies.
For more detailed information on the topics summarized above, see the attached memo from the City Attorney’s Office.
Option to Continue Remote Public Comment
As presented in the memo from the City Attorney’s Office, beginning March 1, there is neither a requirement nor prohibition on allowing members of the public to regularly attending meetings remotely, and that each body may adopt its own policy regarding remote public participation. This section will provide more information regarding the Commission’s option to continue regularly offering remote public participation.
Benefits of Continued Remote Public Comment
The clear benefit of continuing to offer remote public participation at Commission meetings is that it makes it far easier for the public to attending meetings and meaningfully contribute to the work of the Commission. Expanded outreach and engagement with the public has long been a priority for the Commission and continuing to allow remote public comment would make it easier for the public to engage the Commission. The ability to comment remotely can be particularly valuable for members of the public who would find it difficult to visit City Hall in-person for various reasons, including work schedule conflicts, the availability of childcare, physical limitations, lack of transportation, and financial constraints. Making it easier for the public to engage with the Commission is also an important aspect of the Commission’s racial equity goals, which include gathering community feedback from diverse stakeholders on matters that involve or impact San Francisco communities.
Future Situations Where Remote Public Comment May Be Required
While there will not be a requirement to offer remote public participation at every Commission meeting going forward, there are specific situations where remote public participation would be required. With the passage of AB 2449 last year, the Brown Act was amended to allow members of policy bodies to attend meetings remotely, in limited circumstance and with significant restrictions. If a Commissioner were to be attending remotely under AB 2449, the Commission would be required to also allow members of the public to attend the meeting remotely and provide public comment remotely. Additionally, in certain circumstances, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) may require the Commission to provide remote participation options as a reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities.
It is also possible that in the future, the Board of Supervisors could adopt an ordinance setting a Citywide policy that would require remote public comment for the meetings of all City commissions.
Costs Associated With Continued Remote Public Comment
In preparation for the upcoming rules changes regarding meetings, Staff have been in communication with the Department of Technology and SFGovTV to determine what costs may be associated with continuing to offer remote public comment during Commission meetings. Public comment is currently managed through the web conferencing service, Webex. The Department of Technology has confirmed that there is no additional charge for the Ethics Commission to continue using Webex.
Ethics Commission meetings are currently broadcast by SFGovTV, which has stated that they are prepared to continue supporting hybrid virtual meetings (where public comment can be offered both in-person and remotely), when requested by City boards and commissions. SFGovTV has also stated they do not anticipate any additional cost adjustments due to continuing to allow remote public comment (there are general rate increases for FY22-23, but these apply to all commissions, regardless of their use of remote public comment).
Managing and moderating the remote public comment does require Ethics staff resources, but Staff are currently exploring ways to streamline this process so that it is less labor intensive. For example, SFGovTV staff can potentially take over some of the remote public comment moderation duties as part of the services they provide on meeting days. If the Commission decides to continue offering remote public comment at meetings, Staff will continue to explore ways to optimize this process so that Staff resources are efficiently used to provide a high-quality meeting experience for both remote and in-person meeting attendees.
Given the benefits of remote public comment, the potential that it could be required in certain circumstances in the future, and the relatively low costs, Staff recommends the Commission continue offering remote public comment at meetings after the rules change on March 1.
Recommended Next Steps
Staff recommends the Commission vote to direct Staff to continue offering remote public comment at Ethics Commission meetings, after the March 1, 2023 rule changes go into effect.
- Attachment 1: San Francisco City Attorney Memo Regarding Legal Rules Governing Remote Participation by Members of Policy Bodies in Meetings Beginning March 1, 2023 – Dated January 10, 2023