Minutes of the Regular Meeting of
The San Francisco Ethics Commission
September 22, 2014
Room 400, 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 5:31 PM. He stated that, as Commissioners Andrews and Hayon were excused, the Commission would defer the evaluation of the Executive Director (Agenda Item VI) to a future meeting at which more Commissioners would be present.
COMMISSION MEMBERS PRESENT: Benedict Y. Hur, Chairperson; Paul Renne, Vice-Chairperson; Peter Keane, Commissioner. Commissioners Andrews and Hayon were excused.
STAFF PRESENT: John St. Croix, Executive Director; Jesse Mainardi, Deputy Executive Director; Steven Massey, Information Technology Officer; Catherine Argumedo, Investigator/Legal Analyst.
OFFICE OF THE CITY ATTORNEY: Joshua White, Deputy City Attorney (DCA).
OTHERS PRESENT: Dr. Espanola Jackson; Patrick Monette-Shaw; Karen Huggins; Dr. Derek Kerr; and other unidentified members of the public.
– Note regarding the draft Annual Report;
– Draft Annual Report of the San Francisco Ethics Commission (July 1, 2013 – June 30, 2014);
– Draft minutes of the Commission’s Regular Meeting of July 28, 2014;
– Draft minutes of the Commission’s Special Meeting of August 18, 2014;
– Executive Director’s Report.
II. Public comment on matters appearing or not appearing on the agenda that are within the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission.
Dr. Espanola Jackson presented a letter to the Commission from the Black Human Rights Leadership Council of San Francisco and a copy of a San Francisco Chronicle article, dated September 15, 2014. She stated that she had presented the same documents to the Civil Service Commission and spoke at their last meeting. She stated that Airport Commissioner Larry Mazzola had filed a lawsuit against the Housing Authority and had stopped work on sites. She stated that Commissioner Mazzola would withdraw the lawsuit if the Mayor reappoints him to the Airport Commission. She also mentioned that no investigation occurred after he sought to secure employment for a family member. She requested that the Commission investigate his improper use of his status as an Airport Commissioner.
Patrick Monette-Shaw presented an appeal to the Commissioners, dated August 21, 2014. He stated that he had received a letter from the Executive Director dismissing a complaint he filed against David Pilpel. He stated that the letter did not mentioned section III.B.1 of the department’s Statement of Incompatible Activities, where no officer or employee may assist or provide assistance to an entity. He stated that Mr. Pilpel should not have spoken before the Commission on July 28. He requested that the Commission calendar a discussion to reconsider the dismissal of his complaint.
Karen Huggins, President of Holly Courts Residents Council in Bernal Heights, stated that she agreed with the earlier statements of Dr. Jackson. She requested that the Commission investigate Commissioner Mazzola. She stated that federal funds are coming into the City and the law requires that 25% of hires must be residents of San Francisco. She stated that Commissioner Mazzola is trying to eliminate that local hire rule. She stated that the residents of her community need the Ethics Commission’s support and asked the Commission to look into Commissioner Mazzola’s actions.
III. Presentation by Information Technology Officer Steven Massey regarding campaign finance data visualization projects which will be available on the Commission’s website during the fall of 2014.
Steven Massey, the Ethics Commission’s Information Technology Officer, presented three data visualizations that he created for the upcoming election. He stated that the first visualization are dashboards which were available on the Commission’s website in 2012. He stated that the dashboards summarize campaign finance data and is built on open data. Mr. Massey stated that the second visualization concerns ballot measures being considered on the November 2014 ballot. He stated that the user would be able to browse ballot measure activity even if the user knows the measure only by letter. Mr. Massey stated that the third visualization is a democracy facts label, which summarizes activity by committee. He stated that the label was based on a design by Professor Justin Levitt at Loyola Law School. He stated that the label would not be available until after the next filing deadline, which is on October 6, 2014.
Mr. Massey presented all three visualizations with examples of what searches and information is available through the Commission’s website.
He stated that the dashboards are built on datasets including campaign finance transactions, lobbyist reports, public financing filings, campaign consultant reports, enforcement summaries, and filings regarding contractors doing business with the City submitted to the Ethics Commission pursuant to San Francisco Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code section 1.126. He stated that the dashboards allow users to aggregate data, build charts or graphs, and mash-up data (even if data is from another department). He also stated that the data automatically updates itself. He stated that dashboards allow the user to focus on whatever specific information s/he seeks. Mr. Massey performed some sample searches within the dashboards. He stated that the dashboards are a powerful tool, as it filters out the noise and allows users to find information much more quickly.
Mr. Massey stated that these dashboards were created to answer common questions, such as what measures are on the ballot, which committees support or oppose measures, where contributors are from, and who is making in-kind contributions. He stated that these dashboards would not be available until after the October 6, 2014 filing deadline. Mr. Massey performed some sample searches within the dashboards.
Democracy Facts Label
Mr. Massey stated that this label had been published by Professor Levitt in 2010. He stated that this label was useful because the campaign finance disclosure reports may be hard to filter as they are complicated and can have too much information. He stated that Professor Levitt suggested that this simple label be put on all committee communications.
Mr. Massey stated that the Commission focused the label on the ballot measure races. He stated that Professor Levitt argued that the label could alert voters that a large quantity of speech may be coming from only a few people. He stated that the public may not be aware that there is not popular support for certain measures. The label provides the top 5 contributors to a committee and allows the users to run a Google search of its supporters. Mr. Massey performed sample searches within the labels. He stated that the labels would not be available until after the October 6, 2014 filing deadline.
Chairperson Hur stated that Mr. Massey’s presentation was excellent and that the dashboards are a great tool. He stated that the dashboards were a real asset for the City. He asked what the City was doing to protect the integrity of the data. Mr. Massey stated that no one on the Commission’s staff has permission to modify the data. He stated that NetFile maintains the database. He stated that there are an enormous amount of backups and that he is not concerned about the integrity of the data. He stated that there is a database of transactions and staff is able to see whether a filer hit the “submit” button or if a filing was rejected.
Chairperson Hur then asked whether the system was equipped to handle additional traffic. Mr. Massey stated that the servers would not run into that problem. Chairperson Hur asked whether these dashboards existed in any other jurisdiction and Mr. Massey stated that he was not aware of any other City that has implemented something similar. Chairperson Hur asked what the Commission is doing to promote the new dashboards. Mr. Massey stated that Professor Levitt was going to assist staff and that staff would do everything it could to get the word out.
Patrick Monette-Shaw stated that it was a very good presentation. He stated that his experience with OpenSF had not been great and hoped that these dashboards would be on better servers. He stated that sometimes data can be hard to find. He stated that he was impressed with Mr. Massey’s presentation.
Ms. Huggins stated that she would love to see the system out in the community before the election, but suggested that staff tweak a chart that labeled a row as “undefined.” Executive Director St. Croix stated that the chart referenced came from the Mayor’s Office and it is labeled as “undefined” because there were a large number of datasets which were not labeled.
IV. Discussion and possible action on an Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2013-2014.
Executive Director John St. Croix stated that, at Vice-Chairperson Renne’s suggestion, the Commission include an additional bullet point in the future initiatives section at the end of the report. He suggested that the bullet point state that “the Commission agreed with several of the recommendations in the recent Civil Grand Jury report and will work to implement these measures in the near future and will review the progress made six months after the date of adoption.” Executive Director St. Croix stated that the report technically only covers the fiscal year through June 30, 2014 and the discussion of the Civil Grand Jury report occurred in August 2014. Vice-Chairperson Renne stated he made the suggestion since the Commission recently stated it would take action and someone reading the annual report would not see that. Chairperson Hur agreed to include the suggestion.
Commissioner Keane stated that, on page 19, the dates of his service were incorrect and asked them to be corrected. Executive Director St. Croix agreed to do so.
Chairperson Hur had questions in the investigations/enforcement section, starting on page 12. He stated that his first question was about the volume of complaints. Executive Director St. Croix stated that there had been a backlog of complaints for a long time. Chairperson Hur asked if there were only 15 new complaints. Executive Director St. Croix stated that complaints receive a preliminary review of what evidence may exist of a violation of law within the Commission’s jurisdiction. Chairperson Hur asked how long it takes to address the complaints that proceed past that initial evaluation. Executive Director St. Croix stated that it usually takes 3-6 months, but some have taken years. Investigator/Legal Analyst Catherine Argumedo stated that the average would be closer to 9 months and that cases can carry over the following year.
Chairperson Hur asked why the number of whistleblower investigations conducted (under number 4 on page 14) pursuant to San Francisco Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code section 4.130 was listed as zero. Ms. Argumedo stated that none of the whistleblower complaints received by the Commission warranted a full investigation. Chairperson Hur asked why and Ms. Argumedo stated that the complaints received under this Chapter may have alleged violations outside of the jurisdiction of the Commission or there was no reason to believe a violation occurred. Ms. Argumedo stated that there were 21 complaints filed. Chairperson Hur asked whether the number of whistleblower complaints have changed. Ms. Argumedo stated the numbers seem about the same as previous years.
Chairperson Hur then asked about the advice and opinions section of the annual report. He asked why the Commission has not provided written formal advice if staff is receiving many calls for ethics advice. Executive Director St. Croix explained that staff had not received any requests for formal written advice during the fiscal year. He stated that, in the even that occurred, the matter would come before the Commission and the Commission would vote on the advice. Executive Director St. Croix also stated that the Commission provides manuals and information, but members of the public prefer to speak with staff members, even when advice is already provided in printed information or on the Commission’s website. Deputy Executive Director Jesse Mainardi stated that the Commission has lots of written guidance available.
Dr. Derek Kerr thanked Executive Director St. Croix and the staff for including data about whistleblower and retaliation complaints in the report and for sharing additional details with the Citizens’ General Obligation Bond Oversight Committee. He stated that Executive Director St. Croix’s September 12, 2014 letter to the Committee was incomplete as City code requires the reporting of disciplinary actions taken. Dr. Kerr stated that the annual report citing the disciplinary actions as “unknown” is tantamount to being buried. He stated that the Commission should ask departments if a complaint was substantiated and whether disciplinary action was taken. He stated that it is not credible that the Commission has not sustained a complaint alleging retaliation since 1993.
The following written summary was provided by the speaker, Dr. Derek Kerr, the content of which is neither generated by, nor subject to approval or verification of accuracy by, the Ethics Commission:
Thanks for including data about Whistleblower & Retaliation complaints in this Annual Report. And for sharing additional details with CGOBOC, that oversees the Controller's Whistleblower Program. There's still a shortcoming. City Code requires reporting; "The number of disciplinary actions taken by the City as a result of complaints made to the Ethics Commission". But the number you cite is "unknown". "Unknown" = "buried".
Mr. St. Croix contends; other departments are "not required to report" to Ethics, and "reporting would not occur in the future as it would be a personnel matter". Why not ASK before claiming "unknown". All you need is whether the complaint was sustained, and if so, whether discipline was instituted. When we see numbers instead of "unknown", we'll know you take whistleblowers seriously. Unbelievably, Ethics has never reported a sustained retaliation complaint since it's founding.
Patrick Monette-Shaw echoed Dr. Kerr’s comments about the figure being cited in the report as “unknown.” He stated that that he assumes it is within the Commission’s authority that a department report the outcome of the case to the Commission: sustained, dismissed, and/or action taken. He stated that the Commission should implement a policy of asking departments for this information, as it is not a violation of personnel privacy rights.
Dr. Espanola Jackson stated that it was a wonderful report. She asked whether the Commission would take action on what she commented on earlier in the meeting regarding Commissioner Mazzola.
Executive Director St. Croix explained that, as the item is not on the agenda for the meeting, it is not something the Commission may discuss or take action on during the meeting. He also stated that Dr. Jackson may not file a complaint with the Commission during its meeting. Chairperson Hur stated that staff would assist her in filing a formal complaint.
Motion 14-09-22-01 (Keane/Renne) Moved, seconded and passed (3-0, Andrews and Hayon excused) that the Ethics Commission adopt the annual report as amended to correct Commissioner Keane’s dates of service and with the amendment proposed by Vice-Chairperson Renne.
V. Discussion and possible regarding a complaint received or initiated by the Ethics Commission. Possible Closed Session.
Motion 14-09-22-02 (Keane/Renne) Moved, seconded and passed (3-0, Andrews and Hayon excused) that the Ethics Commission go into closed session.
The Commission went into closed session at 6:48 PM. The three Commissioners, Executive Director St. Croix, Deputy Executive Director Mainardi, DCA White, and Ms. Argumedo were present. The Commission returned into open session at 7:07 PM.
Motion 14-09-22-03 (Renne/Keane) Moved, seconded and passed (3-0, Andrews and Hayon excused) that the Ethics Commission keep its closed session deliberations confidential.
VI. Public Employee Performance Evaluation: Executive Director John St. Croix. Possible Closed Session.
[No discussion or action. Item continued.]
VII. Discussion and possible action on the minutes of the Commission’s meetings of July 28, 2014 and August 18, 2014.
Chairperson Hur said that he had stated “early or February 2015,” referring to the last sentence in the second paragraph under Findings and Recommendations 4 & 5 on page 5 in the August 18 minutes.
Patrick Monette-Shaw stated that David Pilpel inappropriately addressed the Commission during the July 28 meeting. He stated he filed a complaint in June and requested that the Commission calendar hearings. He also stated that the annual report contained a reference to delay with the new electronic filings of statement of economic interests (Form 700). He stated that the delay was in part due to departmental filing officers and he questioned how the delay could have been caused by filing officers as only the filers get a password to create an account.
Motion 14-09-22-04 (Keane/Renne) Moved, seconded and passed (3-0, Andrews and Hayon excused) that the Ethics Commission adopt the minutes of the Commission meetings of July 28, 2014 and August 18, 2014, as amended.
VIII. Discussion of Executive Director’s Report.
Executive Director St. Croix stated that the Commission may need to absorb a budget cut. He also stated that information that is on the Commission’s website had been provided in the enforcement section of the report. He stated that Mr. Massey visited Code for America and made a presentation there. Deputy Executive Director Mainardi stated that Mr. Massey fielded questions from the participants for about an hour.
Commissioner Keane asked whether there were staffing positions unfilled because of budget issues. Executive Director St. Croix stated that there is an investigator position open and that the Commission does not have the money to fund it. He stated that the Board had provided additional funding last year to fill the investigator position, but the money was not included for this fiscal year. He stated that he did not want to hire someone at the end of the fiscal year only to lose the funding in the new fiscal year. Commissioner Keane asked what was being done to get additional funds for Commission staff positions. Executive Director St. Croix stated that staff always requests funds for that position and the Mayor’s Budget Office parses out which department gets funding based on their priorities. He stated that additional funding from the Board is limited and discretionary and typically goes to Supervisors’ neighborhood priorities.
Commissioner Keane stated that he handled the budget for his department for 19 years when he worked for the City. He stated that any success in acquiring additional funds for open positions came from Harvey Rose’s office. He recommended that the Executive Director lobby the Budget Analyst’s Office before the Commission’s budget goes before the Board or its committees. Executive Director St. Croix stated that he had never heard of Harvey Rose’s office recommending an increase in a department’s budget. Commissioner Keane that while he has not worked for the City for 15 years, his experience was always to work with the Budget Analyst assigned to your department. He stated that ignorance of that process is concerning to him and that his instincts would be to contact the Budget Analyst’s Office.
Executive Director St. Croix stated that he spends a good portion of the year defending his budget to that office. He stated that he spends a great deal of time lobbying members of the Board and the Mayor’s Office and that the budget has increased significantly since he started as the Executive Director. Commissioner Keane reiterated that the Budget Analyst’s Office expects departments to lobby them outside of the regular process and departments should not simply send budget requests in front of the Finance Committee. Executive Director St. Croix stated that he has sat through budget meetings and never seen them recommend an increase in a department’s budget. He also noted that the Government Audit and Oversight Committee is looking to give the Commission additional resources because of the Civil Grand Jury recommendations, possibly during the next year.
IX. Items for future meetings.
Motion 14-09-22-05 (Keane/Renne) Moved, seconded and passed (3-0, Andrews and Hayon excused) that the Ethics Commission adjourn.
The Ethics Commission adjourned the meeting at 7:26 PM.