Minutes of the Regular Meeting of
The San Francisco Ethics Commission
May 9, 2011
Room 408, City Hall
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102
I. Call to order and roll call.
Chairperson Hur called the meeting to order at 5:37 PM.
COMMISSION MEMBERS PRESENT: Benedict Y. Hur, Chairperson; Jamienne Studley, Vice-Chairperson; Dorothy S. Liu, Commissioner; Charles Ward, Commissioner. Commissioner Hayon was absent.
STAFF PRESENT: John St. Croix, Executive Director; Mabel Ng, Deputy Executive Director; Catherine Argumedo, Investigator/Legal Analyst
OFFICE OF THE CITY ATTORNEY: Andrew Shen, Deputy City Attorney.
OTHERS PRESENT: Jill Bourne, Dr. Judy Melinek, David Pilpel, Richard Hansen, and other unidentified members of the public.
– Proposed amendments to the Statement of Incompatible Activities (SIA) for the San Francisco Public Library, dated May 4, 2011.
– Draft Minutes of the Regular Meeting of the San Francisco Ethics Commission on April 11, 2011.
– Memorandum re: policy priorities from the Executive Director, dated May 4, 2011.
– Executive Director's Report to the Ethics Commission for the Meeting of May 9, 2011.
II. Public comment on matters appearing or not appearing on the agenda that are within the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission
Dr. Judy Melinek, from the Office of the Medical Examiner, stated that she had appeared at April 11, 2011 meeting. She stated that, at that meeting, she had alerted the Commission of her office's practice of ignoring subpoenas. She stated that there have been informal meetings with Dr. Hart and acting City Administrator Brown, but that there have been no instructions to change the SIA. She stated that Dr. Hart stated she would not change the SIA without written instruction. Dr. Melinek stated that Dr. Hart denied her request for AWD to testify in a case in Napa County. She stated that the Medical Examiner's policy was a First Amendment infringement. She stated that she had reasons to believe that she was being singled out because of her request from last month. She stated that other professionals, such as investigators, toxicologists, and medical examiners, also feel the same way. She also provided written testimony from another employee at the Office of the Medical Examiner.
A member of the public stated that he has been doing some thinking about what ethics means. He stated that the rules apply to people you know and people you don't know. He stated that people had an investment in society, regardless of class or economic status. He stated that no one can afford not to care about how other people are treated. He stated that he made these comments in the hope that the Jewelle Gomez complaint would be heard soon. He stated that the rules must apply across the board. He stated if we give status to friends, those friends have bought that friendship.
Richard Hansen stated that he was speaking as a private citizen and that was not paid to be at the meeting. He stated that he had read things about the Snow Lake fiasco. He stated that, in recent months, there has been some discussion about how contractors have been selected at Treasure Island. He stated that he was concerned that individuals were being paid $500 for testifying at a public hearing. He suggested that City lobbyists should carry identification and gave an example of a medallion each lobbyist could wear. He also suggested that the lobbyist carry an envelope that stated how much s/he was being paid.
Paul Currier, a candidate for Mayor in 2011, stated that he was opposed to the adoption of the draft minutes of the April 2011 meeting. He reminded the Commissioners that they have a fiduciary duty to the voters of San Francisco. He disagreed with the Commission's decision permitting the current Mayor to return to his previous job.
Chairperson Hur stated that the Commission cannot address items not on the agenda.
III. Proposed Amendments to the Statement of Incompatible Activities (SIA) for the San Francisco Public Library.
Deputy Director Ng addressed the Commission. She stated that several provisions that had been adopted were not working and suggested that the Commission consider making changes in the Library's SIA. She stated that the Deputy City Librarian was available to answer questions.
Commissioner Liu asked whether there had been requests for advanced written determinations in the department. Deputy City Librarian Jill Bourne stated that there has been one request. Ms. Bourne stated that the fact that the advanced written determination process has not been utilized was a concern for the Library. She stated that some decisions had been made, for example, cancelling exhibits, because of the SIA, so there has been a public service impact. She stated that there is now an increased awareness in the Library. She also stated that the request for advanced written determination had been approved.
Commissioner Studley stated that she anticipated that local and state conflict of interest laws would take care of most concerns. Ms. Bourne stated that the Library has a detailed collection plan. She stated that there are other documents that will be added to the SIA that would dictate how the Library spends its resources.
The Commissioners discussed hypothetical situations where Library resources could be misused, including where someone in charge of purchasing books from a particular publisher or choosing an exhibit for the Library may have a conflict with the proposed vendor(s). Ms. Ng stated that all officers and employees are also subject to the Political Reform Act and would therefore be prohibited from engaging in a governmental decision in which s/he had a financial interest.
Commissioner Ward stated his opposition of eliminating the SIA provisions for the Library. He presented a situation where someone may be responsible for making decisions regarding a particular vendor, where s/he may be moonlighting for that vendor.
Ms. Ng stated that the general conflict of interest rules govern financial activities of City officers and employees. She stated that the SIAs go beyond those general rules and deal with the use of City resources. She presented an example of what is included in an SIA that is not included in the local conflict of interest laws: no one can be paid by a third party for performing his/her City job.
Commissioner Ward expressed concern that someone (ex. City purchasing agent) would have a financial interest due to being a consultant for a vendor. Ms. Ng stated that there are narrow exceptions, but that person would have a conflict of interest. She stated that if someone receives a gift of $420 or more or $500 in income from a source or an investment of $2,000 or more in a source, that person is prohibited from engaging in a governmental decision regarding that source. Commissioner Liu asked whether that person would be required to disclose that financial interest. Ms. Ng stated that that person would be required to disclose it in either meeting minutes or in the file.
Chairperson Hur asked what in the SIA did not meet the original expectations of the Library. Ms. Bourne stated that the Library administration was completely different in 2004, when it was discussed. She stated that there was not a lot of staff input at that time and that the SIA now prohibits reasonable activities. She gave an example of a staff member who is an artist in the community. She stated that this staff member is part of a residence that requires participation in art exhibits, which is banned by the SIA.
A member of the public offered to lend others his stopwatch. He stated that the Library Commission approved an SIA on July 15, 2004 and that it has not been withdrawn. He stated that people may be interested in weighing in on what kind of SIA the Library should have. He stated that the Ethics Commission should ask for the Library Commission's comments. He stated that the Library was the quintessential example of incompatible activities. He stated that they conduct fundraising.
Andrea Grimes, who works in special collections at the Library, is an officer in the Librarians' Guild. She stated that the original SIA was approved, but that Library staff did not have adequate or appropriate input until now. She stated that the document presented to the Ethics Commission has been worked on in coordination with Library staff, the Library Commission, and the union. She stated that she is representing the union and that there has been a long bond of trust with the public. She stated that there was a code of ethics, which was promulgated by the Professional Library Association. She also stated that she approved these changes.
David Pilpel stated that he is speaking in support of the SIA changes. He stated that he did not object to adding the ALA code of ethics and stated that the referenced policies are on the Library's website. He stated that there was an interest in including specific items for each department, but that it may not be necessary if the items are covered elsewhere.
Chairperson Hur asked what indication Mr. Pilpel had that it is no longer needed. Mr. Pilpel stated that the Library had some legitimate concerns, such as the artist's living situation or someone who has written a book. He stated that, in those cases, there is not a concern of undue influence or that the activity should be deemed incompatible. He also stated that he was not being paid to make these statements.
Commissioner Studley asked what the Library Commission's role was in the changes. Ms. Ng stated that the approval of the various commissions was not necessary, but that there were many changes and meetings from 2004 to 2008, when the SIAs were adopted. She stated that what was approved in 2004 is not the same version that exists today. She stated that if the commission decides to approve the changes, then the draft version could be provided to the Library Commission.
Chairperson Hur asked whether any of the instances involved officers of the Library. Ms. Bourne stated that none of the Commissioners or the City Librarian was involved in any of these instances. Chairperson Hur asked whether the Library would object if the SIA were restricted to officers only. Ms. Bourne stated that she would want to review that idea, but the intent of the revisions was for the employees.
Chairperson Hur stated that the perception issue is a concern. Commissioner Ward stated that he would only support changes if SIA provisions remained in place for the Library officers. Mr. St. Croix suggested changing the language for employees and leaving the SIA provisions for Commissioners and the City Librarian. Commissioner Liu asked whether the advanced written determination process would still exist, and, if so, who would sign it for the City Librarian. Ms. Bourne stated that the Mayor would approve that request. Mr. St. Croix stated that he anticipates this matter being revisited at the June meeting.
IV. Closed session.
Executive Director St. Croix stated there had been a drafting error in the agenda and, in the abundance of caution, this item has been cancelled.
V. Discussion and vote regarding closed session action and deliberations.
VI. Minutes of the Commission's regular meeting of April 11, 2011.
Commissioner Studley made a correction on page 4 regarding the name of a speaker, Mr. Zapala.
Motion 11-05-09-01 (Ward/Studley): Moved, seconded, and passed (4-0; Hayon absent) that the Commission adopt the minutes of the Commission's regular meeting of April 11, 2011, as amended.
VII. Policy Priorities.
Executive Director St. Croix stated that the Commission staff has ongoing priorities regarding the day-to-day business of the office, but that the Commission sets policy for staff to carry out. He stated that several areas are always a priority, but other areas change. He stated that he has proposed an updated version.
Commissioner Studley stated that she agreed with the list, especially the first priority, as there is a challenge with this year's race. Chairperson Hur agreed. Mr. St. Croix stated that the office could become very busy based on Supreme Court decisions. Commissioner Liu asked whether there are any proposal before a court decision is made. Mr. St. Croix stated that he would propose ideas depending on what the outcome is. He stated that the source of legal advice on this topic would be from the Oakland City Attorney's office.
Chairperson Hur asked about staff building. Mr. St. Croix stated that the budget news would be finalized on June 1, 2011. He stated that the office could fill a vacancy, if there is no bad news. He stated there was expected turnover in the office, but that Human Resources does not allow departments to search for a new position in advance of a vacancy. He stated that there is typically a three-month gap between when someone leaves and when the position is filled. He stated that he expected two vacancies in the coming year. He stated that getting feedback from the Commission is helpful for staff. He stated that he and Ms. Ng do what they can to keep staff morale strong, but that turnover is hard on people. Chairperson Hur asked whether there was a staff retreat. Mr. St. Croix stated that staff used to go to an annual ethics convention, but that the budget has not permitted that in years.
Motion 11-05-09-02 (Studley/Ward): Moved, seconded, and passed (4-0; Hayon absent) that the Commission adopt these priorities for the coming years.
David Pilpel stated that he was supportive of these priorities.
VIII. Executive Director's Report.
Executive Director St. Croix stated that he had already mentioned the expectations for the budget.
He apologized for brevity for the meeting. He stated that staff anticipated the continuation of a hearing and that he expects a longer meeting in June.
IX. Items for future meetings.
David Pilpel stated that he had suggestions for two provisions in the conflicts of interest laws. He stated that the first provision was regarding when a public disclosure is required in the context of a public meeting. He stated that the disclosure does not currently need to be repeated at later meetings, nor are the reasons for recusal or disclosure repeated, but he thought that it would be helpful for these reasons to be repeated and disclosed at every meeting. He stated that the second provision was regarding a prohibition on making contracts when you are a City officer. He stated that one exemption is sitting on a non-profit board of directors. He stated that if someone is a City officer and on a non-profit board that contracts with the City, there could be an issue and that person should be making a decision not to contact. He requested that staff look at these two items.
X. Public comment on matters appearing or not appearing on the agenda that are within the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission.
Motion 11-05-09-03 (Ward/Liu): Moved, seconded, and passed (4-0; Hayon absent) that the Commission adjourn.
Meeting adjourned at 6:53 PM.