District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy passes out rainbow stickers during the Pride Parade in June.
Photo: Tony Taylor
Castro’s Open Government Falling Short
In January, Mayor Ed Lee appointed UCSF AIDSV Research Institute communications director and longtime LGBT advocate Jeff Sheehy to replace Scott Wiener as the supervisor for District 8. Now, five months into his term, the Castro Courier set out to engage his office regarding homelessness in the Castro and to take a look at how he is managing his working hours as our City Hall representative. We also wanted to evaluate him on a key transparency matter.
Let’s start off on a positive note.
We solicited comments from Andrea Aiello, executive director of the Castro/Upper Market Benefit District about her interactions with Sheehy and she offered high praise of him, “The Supervisor has been very helpful with helping us refocus Castro Cares. He recently pulled together a meeting of all the stakeholders to jump start increased neighborhood collaboration around providing services to those at risk on the street. He’s also been responsive, calling the police when necessary for entrenched homeless encampments on Market in front of Safeway. I know he has also pushed the city on improvements to the area around 16th St. and the library and has met with the neighbors there repeatedly.”
All of that activity on his part is quite laudable. That said, we wish we could echo Aiello’s experience in our requests for information. In mid-June we queried Sheehy for his plan, with specifics, for the summer and fall months to address homeless people causing problems near the Eureka Valley branch library and the surrounding vicinity. We asked about his staff possibly organizing a town hall in the Castro to allow more stakeholders who weren’t at his meeting to hear his plans for solutions to the myriad homeless problems on our streets?
We received this reply from his communications director Justin Jones: “As I’m sure you’re aware, we’re right in the middle of budget and Pride planning for this weekend. Could I please get [...] back to you next week?”
After Pride, we emailed Jones and Sheehy several times seeking a response but have yet to receive any further communication about the homeless issues and other concerns.
To evaluate Sheehy’s allocation of time during his City Hall work hours, and interactions with District 8 constituents after business hours and on weekends, we filed a public records request for his calendar. He’s required to maintain and release calendars for public inspection as part of the Sunshine Ordinance for Open Government.
On June 22, we heard from Jones: “I will have the records ready for you tomorrow. Thank you for your patience.”
The next response from Sheehy’s office came from his chief of staff Bill Barnes, “Our office is in receipt of communications between you and Justin Jones regarding Supervisor Sheehy’s calendar. We are hereby invoking an extension of not more than 14 days pursuant to the California Government Code Section 6253(c) due to the need to ‘consult with another department or agency that has a substantial interest in the response to the request. We will update you Monday on when we will be able to fulfill the request.”
That promised update never came and we found it odd Sheehy and his aides didn’t submit their concerns to the unnamed department or agency they say they need to consult, when first receiving our request which would have expedited this process.
Such a delay forced us to file a complaint with the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force asking them to consider if Sheehy has failed to comply with open government laws when he granted himself an extension of two weeks. This matter would not be an issue if Sheehy voluntarily published his calendar online giving voters easy access to it and the chance to see how he manages his time serving the citizens in the district.
Looking at the general online and social media engagement, Sheehy’s office has a minimal effort in place. On their Twitter and Facebook pages, original or substantive content from him or his three aides is noticeably absent; tweets and posts very occasional. The office also doesn’t maintain a freestanding web site sharing information about the supervisors’ activities and legislative work.
Let’s acknowledge that Sheehy has a slow-paced, deliberative and low-key approach as a supervisor, one that satisfies many in City Hall and in the district, but that shouldn’t prevent him from creating more give-and-take with the community both online and in day-to-day interactions.
We also examined the personnel costs of his office (that taxpayers fund) to address whether voters are getting their money’s worth.
As public servants, Sheehy’s pay is $126,000 while each of his three legislative aides is compensated at least $103,000, bringing the total in salaries for this four-man office to $435,000.
That’s a robust amount of municipal money, and we believe there should be more visible and measurable engagement with Castro constituents, especially in the digital realm.
Sheehy’s sterling track-record as a communications director, expertise that served him so well at UCSF for years, will hopefully be more evident as he grows into the role of being the District 8 supervisor and to better meet the needs of the Castro’s diverse constituents.
Equally important, the supervisor must develop a commitment to regularly release his calendar, without unnecessary dithering, to the public to meet the requirements of the Sunshine Ordinance as we move closer to the 2018 election.
“Flower Power” – A Light Show For The Ages
The Conservatory of Flowers has always been a favorite spot for San Franciscans, as well as a top tourist destination within our city, but until recently these were most often daytime visits. Certainly the Conservatory has it’s share of evening events, but lately it’s become a nightly meeting place for anyone wanting to take part in a beautiful, outdoor, and free art installation in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Held on the first day of summer, the Conservatory of Flowers’ opening event drew thousands of revelers to its outdoor concert, which played in sync to the premiere of a superb and summer long nightly light show. Matthew Stephens, Director at the Conservatory of Flowers, took a moment to share his excitement about the installation with the Courier.
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Wendy: You had a huge opening day celebration on the first day of summer, for your Summer of Love light show, and it was a big success. The thing is that ever since, people have been coming out nightly, no matter how cold or foggy it is, or which night of the week it is. Sometimes they watch from their cars, and sometimes they arrive wrapped in blankets, but they come out every night.
Matthew: It’s really incredible. I’m just as surprised as you are. We were working so hard to get to the June 21st event; we weren’t sure what was going to happen [afterward]. We figured there would be some people wanting to see it who couldn’t make a Wednesday night for one reason or another, but it’s been a few weeks now and you’re right, there continues to be hundreds of people coming each night, and what does that tell us? It tells us that people in San Francisco love free, public art, and that people love the Conservatory. I’ve been in this role for about a year and a half and one thing that’s always struck me is that everyone I talk to says, “I love the Conservatory.” They have this incredible connection to the building, to the plants, and the lighting was part of our larger effort to connect the Conservatory of Flowers with our local community, and to do it in a meaningful, substantive, beautiful way. It of course was a partnership, collaboration with Ben Davis, and Obscura [Digital], and the Recreation and Parks Department, who all worked together, rolled up our sleeves to create. The Conservatory is already a piece of art; it’s really a one of a kind greenhouse, unmatched anywhere, but now at night there’s art on art.
Wendy: Your so right in what you had said about community because it really brings everybody in; there are no limitations on who can attend, so it’s great for building community and establishing new friendships. It also changes the park because the park has become a place that people can socialize in and enjoy at night. Prior to your exhibition, and excepting museum nights or concerts, people didn’t venture into the park for the most part after dark.
Matthew: I totally agree. The lighting is part of our larger effort to activate ourselves at night. The Conservatory is this incredible story, a 138-year-old greenhouse with a world-class collection of plants inside, and we want to share that with people as much as we can. One of the things that I’ve been really targeting since I got here is, “How do we have people at the Conservatory for more hours during the day?” We’ve extended our hours, and now the lighting also helps to activate us, and we have a slew of other nighttime events to create fun and educational and inspiring experiences. One of the other interesting things about the lighting is that, even when we started testing it before June 21st, what we noticed then was that people really like interacting with it; [for example] they want to see their shadow on the building. It wasn’t intended to be that dynamic but it’s clear that it is; it’s been one of the great surprises here. It’s awesome to see people taking pictures and enjoying it. We’ve had people set up DJ stations or have rap battles out in front; there’s all this community activation going along with [what we do]. I’ve been there many nights and you see strangers becoming friends in front of the Conservatory.
Wendy: Speaking of the testing and construction that was quite a project, installing the light panels on the kiosks out front. How long did it all take to put together?
Matthew: The last month was the most intense. Obscura took a lot of measurements and a lot of things that I can’t even explain, it’s so complicated. They mapped the entire building to get a model to understand how this could all work. When you give a PowerPoint presentation and put it on a wall it’s really simple, ‘cause the wall is flat, but the Conservatory has a million different edges, and undulations, and corners, as it is definitely not a flat surface to project upon. They had to study the building and understand how light would interact with it and the shadows, where lights would need to be placed, and the angles that they would need to be placed at to get the effects that we were after. That’s where they deserve all the credit because they’re the smartest people that you could talk to about illumination. Then we had the help of Ben Davis who helped us refine the artistic level to make sure it’s very tasteful. We also worked in the Conservatory; when you stand back and look, all of the flowers that you see are actual plants from within the Conservatory. Obscura came in and did photo shoots of some of the flowers to actually use as the artwork; it was bringing what’s inside the Conservatory out. Sometimes people don’t know what’s in that big white building; it’s a literal translation of taking what’s inside out, for people to enjoy.
Wendy: Let’s talk about your fantastic opening night. You had lots of collaboration happening there too, with Meyer Sound and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass working together to orchestrate your free solstice concert. The park was just packed for that, with some people dressing up in honor of the Summer of Love. It was a huge success.
Matthew: It really was an incredible night. We weren’t sure how many people were going to show up. We had planned with Recreation and Parks for bathrooms and security for a large number, thinking that it is a free concert kicking off the Summer of Love; we’d think that would be really popular. As we were setting up for the day at 11 o’clock people were starting to put out their blankets and by 6 o’clock thousands of people were there. All these people came out to enjoy a beautiful night, beautiful in the sense that there was music, and food, and illumination, free, with all different types of people from San Francisco in this beautiful setting. I was like, “This is so magical.”
Wendy: It was magical and it felt like, San Francisco is coming together to celebrate their love for the city and also their love for the values of this city, which obviously were also celebrated during the original Summer of Love.
Matthew: You’re right, the night was all about love: love for the city, love for music, love for the Conservatory, and love for your neighbor. It was awesome.
Wendy: Everybody left smiling. Now you’re going to expand upon what’s already happening with the illumination every night, because on third Friday nights, beginning on July 21st, the Conservatory will be hosting a beer garden experience called Botanicals and Brews.
Matthew: Yes, third Friday of each month we’re planning on doing Botanicals and Brews as a pop-up beer garden in front of the Conservatory, where we’ll be partnering with a local beer maker and also offering a food option. People are already coming to the Conservatory to see lighting and we’re hoping that it curates a slightly different experience with the Conservatory where people get a chance to have a very relaxing night with friends or family away from the busyness, and take a few minutes to escape in a beautiful place.
Wendy: The lighting will be ongoing through October 21st and the beer garden will go all the way through December.
Matthew: We’re really trying to be thoughtful, with Botanicals and Brews, and Murder Mystery, and we have a couple of other things here in the works that we will have [on a regular basis] to give people in San Francisco a way to connect to the Conservatory in a different sort of way. We hope they’re successful and are really putting a lot of time and effort and money into the planning of all these, with the hopes that it continues to activate us.
For more information on the light show at the Conservatory of Flowers, visit the website for the SF Rec and Parks Department; www.sfrecpark.org.
Brio Financial Group Wins “Top 50” Award
The Brio Financial Group was recently named as a “Top 50” LBGT owned business in the San Francisco Bay Area by the San Francisco Business Times media group. We caught up with Brandon Miller, Brio Managing Partner and Co-founder to discuss what receiving this prestigious award means to the firm, and to him personally.
I started by asking about his personal satisfaction with the award:
Brandon: “It reminds me of all the wonderful clients we’ve helped – and continue to help on their unique journey. This recognition means they’ve stuck with us, which is deeply gratifying. From a business prospective I’m happy people want quality and consistent advice, not just investment advice. That’s how we’ve structured and positioned our business from the very beginning. We are really proud of the collaborate work we have done to help our clients build wealth, protect their assets and most importantly – to be an intimate part of their lives.”
Mitch: Give me a little information on Brio, tell me about Brio Financial Group – what are you known for within the financial planning and investment management?
Brandon: “When you do financial planning, which has always been our core business model, we create a partnership with our clients to set a strategy first and track the progress. We don’t just expect a planning relationship – we turn away business that doesn’t include a holistic approach to their financial lives - despite the number of assets they may have. We are consistently educating our clients on the choices in front of them – giving them confidence they are making the right decisions, and reminding them to expect the bumps along the way so they don’t quit. In fact, getting through the difficult times is sometimes the most rewarding part of this work, and I’m really proud to be included in the journey.”
Mitch: To be named as a Top 50 firm in the LBGT business community says a great deal about the company. How did you forge a solid reputation as an LBGT financial services practice?
Brandon: “As far as our reputation as an LGBT practice? When my former business partner, Joanne Jordan and I started this firm, we both found a natural market in the LGBT community very quickly – as we both are gay and experienced first-hand the difficulties of navigating through our own personal lives. The lack of marriage protection and other legal and tax roadblocks were a real challenge, of course. This made filing your taxes, doing your estate planning and financial analysis much more difficult. Prior to gay marriage in CA, we had to exercise a very academic approach to non-traditional planning for hundreds of same-sex couples. But even now, after same-sex marriage recognition – the nuances and differences of LGBT couples still exist. I’m happy we are still recognized within the LGBT community for our expertise, and strong community support within the Bay Area.”
Mitch: What makes your firm different than other firms?
Brandon: “At Brio, we spend many, many hours with our clients and really understand their hopes and dreams, and the specific roadblocks and emotional issues getting in their way. When we say, “comprehensive financial planning”, we mean a detailed approach to solving complex financial opportunities for each and every unique client. Our work is not just about the numbers, the law, or the product mix a portfolio may look like – but also about the confidence to stay in the market when everyone has left. We are there for them – no matter what and their interests come first. We also have grown this practice primarily through referrals, which gives me a great sense of pride for our whole team, which has grown to 14 professionals.
Mitch: Your byline columns in the local newspapers are focused heavily on financial education and asking readers to find good advice. Where do you go for expertise to make sure your delivering quality insights to our readers and your clients?
Brandon: “All of us are constantly being trained and seeking new solutions that might enhance our client experience. This is often done with educational conferences for our advisors, on-line courses, financial analysis, commentaries and periodicals – anything and everything, including professional organizations like the Financial Planning Association. The advisors here at Brio also have a collaborative approach to case analysis, so each advisor has great team of resources for real estate, tax efficient strategies for investments, Medicare, estate planning or any number of core specialties. Most of us also have advance degrees and other designations in our field, such as Certified Financial Planner (CFP®). We have also instilled in the culture of our firm “education” so everyone on our team is always striving to learn more each and every day.”
Mitch: Do you believe LGBT individuals seek LGBT advisors?
Brandon: “Yes, absolutely. Most of it is just familiarity – especially the simple nuances of life that are similar. “
Mitch: What three people, things and roles that you have played have contributed most to your success?
Brandon: “I am fortunate enough to have found a career and subject matter that I’m passionate about and it is never boring. Helping people achieve their financial hopes and dreams is very motivating to me personally, so the “hard work” of building this business has always been rewarding. We also have talented, fun, loving, and smart people on our team and that makes each day special and rewarding as well.”
Mitch: Finally, in 10 years from now, where do you hope to be personally and professionally?
The firm is getting ready to move to new offices. By the time you read this, they will be unpacking in their new home at 333 Bush Street, Suite 1400. For more information about the Brio Financial Group please visit their website at: http://www.ameripriseadvisors.com/team/brio-financial-group.
Bluegrass Group Gets Green Light – Float A First For Parade
Brandon Godman watches the bluegrass bands practice before the 2017 San Francisco Pride Parade Photos: Jessica Webb
“When your soul is free, your music explodes. I allowed myself to fall in love with Bluegrass again.”
When Ted Kuster went to Bakersfield for the annual California Bluegrass Association meeting in January, he knew there would be opposition to his idea of sponsorship for a float in the 2017 San Francisco Pride Parade. After adding it to the meeting’s agenda, he asked a friend what she thought. “Good luck” was her reply.
Bound and determined, Kuster had already written a pitch for the board. When he set out to do the float one of his big goals was visibility. If over 100 thousand people attend the parade, he wondered what would happen if 20 or 30 of them were influenced by the bluegrass float. Kuster needed support.
Brandon Godman received an email from a friend of Kuster’s and he thought, “This is awesome, but you guys are nuts. Do you know what the rest of the community will do? Let’s do it!”
Godman, who spent nine years in Nashville as a touring musician, moved to the West Coast for the violin trade and to continue playing music. He grew up in Falmouth, Kentucky, a town of 2500 people — “Not a place to be out,” he says.
While touring in 2008, Godman was closeted to his bandmates before they discovered his sexuality. He was fired from one of the biggest acts in bluegrass because of being gay.
“It wasn’t something they stood behind and couldn’t have that be part of their band,” he says. “I wasn’t out to my family or many friends when I fell out of the closet. It wasn’t a grand opening of the door, but, ‘Oh Shit, BAM!”
He viewed bluegrass as no place for “others,” but was quickly proven wrong. He was immediately hired by another band. “Some said theywould never take their kids to [the Pride parade] because they weren’t seeing the spirit of it today.”
“One of the first people I called was an out lesbian who played with huge country artists and everyone in Nashville loved her,” Godman says. “She knew I was gay, but we never talked about it. I remember looking at her and seeing the life she built. There was hope seeing her path. And when I put my head on the pillow [I found strength to] wake up the next morning and keep doing it.”
He was hired WHEN to perform with Dale Ann Bradley, a five-time Female Bluegrass Vocalist of the Year winner. He calls her his Musical Mama who held his hand supportively as he came out.
Called “mountain music” or “country music,” bluegrass emerged from remote areas in the early 1900s. Often associated with conservative values, the bluegrass community was founded in the Central Valley and the Sierra Foothills by Arkansas and Oklahoma emigrants in the 1930s and 40s. The invention of the phonograph and the radio brought bluegrass out of the mountains and into the homes of people all over America, according to the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation.
Bay Area bluegrass began in 1959 with the formation of Red Canyon Ramblers. The quartet’s instruments included a mandolin, a guitar, a banjo and a washboard bass.
As the bluegrass gospel has spread, it’s beyond those who started it and the diversity increases with each generation. Their biggest growth in recent decades, according to Kuster, has been in the Bay Area and Southern California.
California Bluegrass Association (CBA) is a force in the world of bluegrass music. Their membership exceeds that of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA).
“Nashville was an oasis of the south where I could be myself,” says Godman, “but I didn’t realize how much I was hiding until moving [here].”
On his second night in San Francisco, he went to the Monday night bluegrass session at Amnesia on Valencia Street. He began meeting people who eventually started calling him for gigs. He recalls attending “a hippie festival on top of a mountain in Santa Cruz with all walks of life.” He even felt comfortable bringing his partner along.
“The community embraced me for who I am,” he says. “When your soul is free, your music explodes. I allowed myself to fall in love with bluegrass again.”
Godman got emotional when he stood to speak at the Bakersfield CBA meeting in January.
“I was a bumbling mess,” he admits. “I told them this is a statement of ‘we have open arms.’ It’s not quietly accepting anyone; all are welcome. [Still] some said they would never take their kids to that kind of thing because they weren’t seeing the spirit of it today: a celebration of pride and diversity in the LGBTQ community.”
Religious beliefs forced just one person to vote against the CBA’s Pride float sponsorship. After listening to the arguments, he said, “Sorry guys, I just can’t,” according to Godman.
After the meeting, people thanked Godman for sharing his experience and others shared their stories with him. Someone had a brother who died of AIDS. Someone else’s parents turned their back on them. Another said simply, “My heart goes out to [you] and it’s unfair.” Another, “I’m not LGBT, but I’m Jewish.”
Kuster, who is heterosexual, says, “I keep getting promoted to ‘ally.’ I’ll take it, but I’m really just a guy whose happiness is tied to other people’s happiness.
“We went through a painful, but ultimately very productive debate,” he adds. “Now our community is solidly behind us, including the people who were most upset by this project at first.”
Kuster says there is something to learn here. “I’ve started to think about how we can resolve differences across deep and painful cultural divides, which obviously is something our whole country needs to explore right now.”
The California bluegrass community is unique by having red-state and blue-state people come together under conditions of trust and acceptance through the music. Despite CBA’s concerns that they would lose membership by participating in the parade, it increased 10 percent, which Godman contributes to the pride effort. From Nashville to Portland to Los Angeles, close to 150 people signed up to parade down Market Street.
“There’s a vibrancy in this community and a lot of eyes are on us just for doing it,” Godman adds. “As soon as we start making space for younger people to be part of this, we’ll have another group to be passionate about bluegrass.”
Godman says being labeled a ‘pioneer’ is hard to accept.
“It feels really good,” he admits. “Not like ‘Look what I’ve done,’ but, ‘Look where we are now; look at the path that’s been paved.’ Now people who are coming out can see someone who’s already done it in bluegrass. I hope this makes it a little easier for the next generation.”
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Mitch: What does being ranked in the “top 50” revenue mean for you personally?
Brandon: “Personally, someday I’d like to find Mr. Right – but not banking on that. I’d like to have another child or two in the next 10 years, probably living in the same house in Duboce Triangle. I really want to continue growing intellectually, and continuing to help my clients. I’d be pretty darn happy with that,” concluded Miller.