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Dog Bites 

Wednesday, Nov 15 1995
Birth of a Business
Talk about a free ride for a life-and-death enterprise.
The tape-recorded message at the Health Department's death and birth certificates office tells callers that if they need help obtaining documents, and pronto, they might want to call a private firm -- in Sacramento.

"If you cannot appear in person but need to expedite receipt of your death record order, you may wish to contact Birth Certificates Now ... which handles birth requests as well," the tape repeats twice, then offers two BCN phone numbers.

So why is a private firm enjoying free advertising from a public office supported by tax dollars? And why are callers being steered to BCN as opposed to some other company -- a local one, say?

No other company exists, reports Ed Hernandez, Bureau of Records and Statistics director, who bases this conclusion on several phone calls to people in similar lines of work. In fact, "they" -- the BCN folks -- "exist only because I started talking to them about the problem," Hernandez says. For years, he'd been discussing how this "was a good idea for a business." Finally, "I started talking to a businesswoman in Sacramento." And she bit.

The reason for Hernandez's crusade: Many out-of-towners need copies of death or birth certificates, and have no way to obtain them other than to ask a friend -- or pay a stranger -- to stand in line at 101 Grove. Documents can also be requested by mail. "But the backlog at the time BCN started was up to 12 weeks," Hernandez says.

At least one or two new city employees would have to be hired to churn out the certificate requests that BCN folks since July have been logging via computer, Hernandez says. And with city finances so grim, no such hires were in sight. So Hernandez believes he helped provide a public service, the privatization way. (The City Attorney's Office says there was no need for a bidding process, since the city isn't paying BCN.)

BCN customers, meanwhile, don't save bucks. The city charges $9 per certificate. The BCN charge: $25 to $37, depending on how fast you need documents, and up to $13 for additional copies. Nice work, if you can get put up to it.

Stick It to Him
The "Head on a Stick Awards" of SF Weekly cartoonists (and part-time vigilantes) Dave Eggers and Harmon Leon have decapitated and publicly humiliated weatherman Peter Giddings, Lamar Alexander, Ben Hom, and Frank Jordan for their various high crimes and misdemeanors. But Department of Parking and Traffic czar John Newlin has been spared the graphic "stick" treatment because the cartoonists had no file picture of him. Early this month, Newlin rectified the situation by mailing us a recent photo, shown here. He protests that he isn't worthy of an award, writing, "I can't imagine how anyone can think I'm evil when my life is devoted to increasing parking and reducing congestion. ... Looking for your car, [signed] John Newlin."

By Amy Linn, Jack Shafer

About The Authors

Amy Linn


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