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Minutes – August 26, 2010


Untitled Document

Minutes of the Special Meeting of
The San Francisco Ethics Commission
August 26, 2010
Room 400, City Hall
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102

I. Call to order and roll call.

Chairperson Studley called the meeting to order at 6:05 PM.

COMMISSION MEMBERS PRESENT:  Jamienne Studley, Chairperson; Susan Harriman, Vice-Chairperson; Eileen Hansen, Commissioner; Benedict Y. Hur, Commissioner; Charles Ward, Commissioner. 

STAFF PRESENT:  John St. Croix, Executive Director; Catherine Argumedo, Investigator/Legal Analyst.

OFFICE OF THE CITY ATTORNEY:  Mollie Lee, Deputy City Attorney.

OTHERS PRESENT:  John Arntz, Director of the Department of Elections; Mike Hennessey, San Francisco Sheriff; Charley Marsteller; Brent Turner; and other unidentified members of the public.


  • Staff memorandum re: whether proposed ballot measure will have a material effect on Sheriff Department employees, dated August 24, 2010. 
  • Memorandum from Catherine Dodd, Director of the Health Service System, re: assessment of the impact of the recently proposed City Charter Amendment, “The Sustainable City Benefits Reform Act”

II. Consideration of the request by the Department of Elections for a determination by the Ethics Commission, under Charter section 13.104.5, whether a proposed Charter amendment that would increase employee contributions to the Retirement System, decrease employers’ contributions to the Health Service System and change rules for arbitration proceedings about City collective bargaining agreements will have a “material financial effect” on the Sheriff or uniformed personnel in his office.

Chairperson Studley thanked everyone for attending the meeting for this piece of urgent business.  Executive Director St. Croix stated that the Commission needed to make a decision under Charter section 13.104.5, determining whether a proposition in the November 2010 election would have a material financial effect on Sheriff’s personnel.  He stated that staff has not found that the proposition would create a material financial effect and its recommendation was made accordingly.  He recognized that John Arntz, Director of Elections, and Sheriff Hennessey were present at the meeting.  Chairperson Studley asked to hear from both of them.

John Arntz, Director of the Department of Elections, stated that he was happy to answer any questions regarding the Sheriff’s role on Election Day and before and after Election Day.  He stated that his department meets with the Sheriff’s office to discuss security.  He stated that one meeting has already occurred.  He stated that the Sheriff would have command of the deputies.  He stated that, after the election, the deputies are in charge of security of the ballots and they work closely with the Department of Elections.

Commissioner Hansen asked about the feasibility in terms of cost of an alternative plan to the Sheriff’s Department providing security, and whether there had been research on an alternative plan.  Mr. Arntz stated that there had not been any research about an alternative plan at this point.  He stated that the Department had previously contemplated it and contacted the National Guard to provide security for the election and ballots.  He stated that the City is unable to use federal officers for that purpose.  He stated that the Police Department is unable to supply officers either.  He stated that the alternative would be to hire private security companies and that the issue with private companies is that one company is unable to provide sufficient personnel.  He stated that the City would need to hire 3-4 different companies, as it is such a large job.  He stated that the estimated cost would be several hundred thousand dollars, possibly close to a million dollars.  He stated that an alternative plan for security would be very challenging.

Commissioner Hansen asked whether an arrangement could be made with another city.  Mr. Arntz stated that personnel could not be arranged from another city, as San Francisco is unique in that the Charter requires that the Sheriff’s office oversee the security for the ballots.

Commissioner Hur asked what the Sheriff’s deputies do on election night and afterwards.  Mr. Arntz gave a brief account of the Sheriff’s deputies’ duties during previous elections.  He stated that approximately 110 deputies pick up the ballots, using City vehicles on prearranged routes to specific precincts.  He stated that the ballots are retrieved and transferred to Pier 48, allowing the Department of Elections to trace custody of all ballots.  He stated that, during the counting of the ballots through confirmation of the official results, which takes about 30 days, the Sheriff’s deputies are always with the ballots.  He stated that the process before the Sheriff’s office involvement was inconsistent and the Department of Elections would have difficulty in locating some ballots.  Chairperson Studley stated that the question before the Commission is whether the issues on the ballot will have a material financial effect on the Sheriff’s department.

Sheriff Hennessey stated that he did not believe there would be a conflict, as the Sheriff’s department has provided security for the ballot for several years.  He stated that the proposition has a potential effect on all City employees.  He stated that the deputies will be and are well trained and will be told not to make any comments to any poll workers or the public regarding their personal feelings about this issue.

DCA Lee stated that the City Attorney’s office agrees with staff’s recommendation.  Commissioner Harriman stated that she agreed with staff’s recommendation because the proposition could possibly affect all City employees, not just the Sheriff’s department.  She stated that fact lessened the materiality of it.

Commissioner Hur stated that he was less persuaded on the materiality point, but that he agreed with staff’s recommendation.  Commissioner Hansen stated that the impact does not need to be a unique impact on the party.  She read the proposition as having a material financial impact.  She stated that an alternative security plan would be difficult to create, especially as an alternative would be costly.  She suggested the Commission determine there would be a material financial effect, but that there would be no alternative security proposal at this time.  DCA Lee stated that the Charter is clear in that, if the Commission were to find a material financial effect, then the Elections Commission must adopt an alternative security plan.

Chairperson Studley stated that she supported staff’s recommendation.  She stated that the voters intended the Sheriff’s office to provide security.  Commissioner Hur asked whether the view among the Commission was that the materiality relates to each individual affected of the department or the department as a whole.  He stated that the proposition could have a small impact on each individual, but the effect could be quite large if looking at the whole department.  Commissioner Harriman stated that there are so many uncertainties that there is not enough to find materiality.  Executive Director St. Croix stated that staff’s recommendation is based on the individuals, as it relates to health care coverage and pension.  Commissioner Ward stated that there could be a wide range between how it would impact an individual’s salary.  He stated that the Commission is unable to say that the impact would be on the higher end of the range and the effect is uncertain. 

Executive Director St. Croix stated that a measure has a “material financial effect” on Sheriff’s Department employees under Charter section 13.104.5 when it (a) has some effect on the employees’ finances, and (b) the effect could be significant enough that it could interfere with the employees’ duty of loyalty to the City in providing security for the ballots.  He stated that nothing within the proposition has been negotiated yet.  He stated that the Commission should decide whether the proposed changes are enough to corrupt the Sheriff’s office.  Chairperson Studley stated that it is uncertain whether there will be a material financial effect, as the employee affected may change health plans and no one knows at this point how much the changes will cost.  She suggested asking whether the effect was material enough to override the sworn responsibility of an officer of the law.

Motion 10-08-26-1 (Harriman/Ward):  Moved, seconded and agreed (5-0) that the Commission does not find the proposed ballot measure will have a “material financial effect” on the Sheriff or uniformed personnel in his office.

Public Comment:

Charley Marsteller stated that, before Prop E, custody of the ballots transferred from City employees to an officer of the court.  He stated that there is a reasonable presumption that the Sheriff’s office can be trusted to do this type of security work in a fair and efficient way.  He stated that the public created this body independently in order to establish objective review.  He agrees with staff’s analysis.

Brent Turner stated that he applauded the final decision of the Commission.  He stated that the Sheriff’s department was preferable to private companies for security issues.  He stated that the ballots should be counted at the precinct and that the City should move towards better systems in election reform.  Mr. Turner also submitted written comment, which is attached to these minutes.

Chairperson Studley thanked everyone in attendance, including department representatives.

III. Adjournment.

Motion 10-08-26-2 (Harriman/Hur):  Moved, seconded and passed (5-0) that the Commission adjourn.

Public Comment:

Meeting adjourned at 6:42 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Catherine Argumedo

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