Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office has refused to make public the messages he sent and received on his cell phone about the Cosco Busan spill in November, since the messages were transmitted on his personal iPhone.
On Nov. 7, the 900-foot shipping tanker sideswiped a stanchion of the Bay Bridge. An estimated 58,000 gallons of fuel spilled from the ship, but local city officials, including the mayor, were not informed of the severity for roughly 12 hours.
In the days after the spill, Newsom flew to Hawaii for a planned vacation, assuring the public he was in constant contact with his staff.
But those communiqués between Newsom and his staff are "private" and will not made public because they occurred on his cell phone, asserted the Mayor’s Office.
Newsom, however, said he does not carry a cell phone dedicated specifically for mayoral duties.
"I don’t believe the taxpayers should be paying for my cell phone use," Newsom said, noting he "co-mingles" public and personal calls.
While in Hawaii, he used many phones to keep tabs on the fuel spill incident, the mayor said.
"I did reach out and was connected to people and used my own resources, my own money to pay for that communication," Newsom said. "And the only question is: why didn’t I submit a reimbursement?"
Newsom never submitted for a reimbursement for his cell phone during his first term as mayor, according to the Controller’s Office.
Observers said the content of the message is what is important.
"Whether the message comes by text message to a personal iPhone or by Pony Express is irrelevant. What matters is the content of the message," said Peter Scheer, the executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition. "If it’s about public business, then its public record."
Scheer called the reasoning a "huge loophole" because sunshine laws could be circumvented by not using government devices.
Richard Knee, who has been on The City’s Sunshine Task Force since 2002, said the Newsom administration has so far been "selective" with the information they release.
Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin said most public officials have private cell phones, and while a person might not be required to divulge the information, that should not keep it private.
"When one makes a representation then it’s appropriate to back that up with evidence," he said.