Supervisor of Records

A representation of sunshine from the interior detail of San Francisco's City Hall.
A representation of sunshine from the interior detail of San Francisco’s City Hall.

Petitioning the Supervisor of Records

If you requested records from a San Francisco city official or agency, and you believe the response you received to be non-compliant or incomplete, you have the right to ask the City Attorney’s Office to review whether the records you requested are public. This request is formally known as a petition to the Supervisor of Records.

What the Supervisor of Records Does

The San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance designates the City Attorney as the “Supervisor of Records” for purposes of considering petitions by requesters to determine whether records withheld by San Francisco city agencies, employees, or officials in response to Sunshine requests are public. (S.F. Administrative Code §§ 67.20(c) and 67.21(d)) Often, the Supervisor of Records’ initial involvement in a dispute over whether records are public is sufficient to gain compliance informally—simply by reviewing the request and the records and discussing the Sunshine Ordinance’s requirements confidentially with the responding agency. The Supervisor of Records resolves a majority of petitions after the responding agency produces the responsive records in its possession or confirms that it has produced all responsive records. But, sometimes, a written determination from the Supervisor of Records is necessary, to either:

  • Inform the petitioner that the responding agency properly withheld or redacted the records, while explaining the legal reason for doing so; or
  • Inform the responding agency that the records withheld are public, and should therefore be disclosed to the petitioner.

For all practical purposes, that usually resolves the dispute. But, if a responding department were to reject a Supervisor of Records determination, the Sunshine Ordinance authorizes the Supervisor of Records to undertake all necessary and appropriate measures to secure compliance, including making referrals to enforcing agencies.

How to File a Supervisor of Records Petition

To file a petition, no special form is required. You simply email Supervisor.Records@sfcityatty.org, and provide the following information as the basis for your petition:

  • The city department to which you made your request,
  • The record or records you requested,
  • The date of your request,
  • An explanation as to why you believe the decision to withhold or redact records is unlawful,
  • Other information you consider pertinent, and
  • Your contact information and preferred means of contact.

We recommend including copies of correspondence and other documents you consider relevant to your request and/or petition, as these are very helpful to the Supervisor of Records’ full evaluation of your petition. You can also send a petition by U.S. Mail to:

City Hall, Room 234
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102

The Supervisor of Records endeavors to respond to petitions within 10 days, as provided by the Sunshine Ordinance. Where a petition involves a complicated records request, raises complex legal issues, or requires significant consultation with or a further response from the responding department, the Supervisor of Records will necessarily take additional time to resolve the petition.

Pursuing other remedies

Sunshine Ordinance Task Force

Filing a petition with the Supervisor of Records does not preclude you from also filing a complaint with the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, or SOTF, pursuant to S.F. Administrative Code § 67.21(e). You are free to pursue either or both administrative processes simultaneously or at different times.

Judicial Remedies for Sunshine Violations

Neither of the administrative options available to you under the Sunshine Ordinance restrict your right to seek judicial remedies in San Francisco Superior Court for Sunshine violations. (S.F. Administrative Code §§ 67.21(f) and 67.21(g)) A lawsuit filed in Superior Court during the pendency of a Sunshine Ordinance Task Force complaint on the same matter would not necessarily affect that administrative process.  But a civil court action filed in the midst of a Supervisor of Records petition on the same dispute would require a halt in that process.  The City Attorney’s duty under the San Francisco City Charter and state law to defend the city and its employees in civil litigation necessarily preempts conflicting responsibilities in the Administrative Code, as the Sunshine Ordinance itself contemplates. (S.F. Admin Code § 67.21(j))

Annual Reports of the Supervisor of Records

Finally, the Sunshine Ordinance also provides that the Supervisor of Records prepare and submit to the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force an annual report. (S.F. Admin Code § 67.21(h)) Each report tallies and describes all petitions filed since the preceding report, and details opinions and results that either facilitated petitioners’ access to requested records, or more fully explained the legal basis for lawful withholding if respondents’ denials were affirmed. The following are recent Annual Reports of the Supervisor of Records: