So yesterday I attended the funeral of Sanjiv Handa, whom City Hall watchers would undoubtedly remember for his tireless rants against public officials for their lack of accountability, violations of public records laws and Brown Act violations, among other faults. He died unexpectedly at the age of 55. As a self-described “journalist,” he was generally more interested in espousing his own opinions, was almost certainly mentally ill, regularly sabotaged his own credibility by threatening to sue without any intention or means to do so, and made numerous and regular factual errors in his “reporting.” Despite all of this, I had to see him on some level as a kindred spirit.
And so I was happy to see the enormous turnout at his memorial service, which included Council President Larry Reid, former councilmember Nate Miley, at least two members of the Measure Y Oversight Committee, former Assistant City Administrator Jeff Baker, numerous bloggers and reporters, Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan, and former City Attorney John Russo, among others. Of the non-family member speakers, most, if not all, commented on Sanjiv’s obsession with Oakland politics, without necessarily making specific mention of the details, such as corruption, mismanagement, or violation of transparency rules. None of them pointed out that many of Sanjiv’s criticisms were well-founded, or that his frustration and discouragement by the ongoing abuses may have actually contributed to his mental health issues or untimely death. But perhaps it was neither the time nor the place for such commentary, so that can be forgiven.
Larry Reid announced his intention of honoring Sanjiv’s memory by dedicating and naming a room at City Hall after him, and the crowd broke into applause. It was a sweet and sincere offer, and I hope he follows through on it. But the fact of the matter is that Sanjiv’s memory should and must be honored in a much more meaningful way, and that is for the City to start respecting and complying with the California Public Records Act and the Brown Act, the two topics most dear to Sanjiv’s heart.
For every Oakland politico I saw at the event, I couldn’t help thinking of their personal and specific violations of those laws. Larry Reid, who most recently violated the Brown Act in the most blatant and appalling manner regarding the appointment of Jakada Imani to the Port Commission. (His appointment was later tossed due in large part to the overt violation of the Brown Act). Jose Dorado, Jean Quan’s appointee to the Measure Y Oversight Committee, who also within the last couple of months tried to hold a meeting without any posting of an agenda whatsoever. (After my strong objections and pointing out the blatant legal violations, the meeting was canceled). Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan, who oversees the police department, is currently facing allegations from the ACLU over failing to respond to numerous public records requests. John Russo oversaw the City Attorney’s office and defended against my lawsuit alleging multiple, obvious and regular violations of the Public Records Act. Jeff Baker, who regularly tried to stymie my efforts at accountability and access to records.
So I ask you and our Oakland officials to consider, in light of Sanjiv’s very recent passing, his obsessions and meaning in life, and the start of a new year, what is truly the most meaningful way to honor his memory? It must start with an acknowledgment that his accusations were on many levels well-founded, that those attending his service were among the offenders, and that saying a few kind words and naming a room in a building is simply not enough. The City must make a concerted and meaningful effort to significantly improve compliance with the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act. Only then will I be convinced that their presence at his memorial or their kind eulogies were anything more than lip service and political opportunism.