Minutes of the Regular Meeting of
The San Francisco Ethics Commission
January 23, 2017
Room 400 – City Hall
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102
(Approved February 27, 2017)
1. Call to order and roll call.
Chairperson Renne called the meeting to order at 5:32 PM.
COMMISSION MEMBERS PRESENT: Paul Renne, Chairperson; Peter Keane, Vice-Chairperson; Beverly Hayon, Commissioner; Daina Chiu, Commissioner; and Quentin L. Kopp, Commissioner.
STAFF PRESENT: LeeAnn Pelham, Executive Director; Jessica Blome, Deputy Director; Jarrod Flores, Education and Compliance Officer; Steven Massey, Electronic Disclosure & Data Analysis Manager; and Gayathri Thaikkendiyil, Executive Fellow.
OFFICE OF THE CITY ATTORNEY: Josh White, Deputy City Attorney and Andrew Shen, Deputy City Attorney.
OTHERS PRESENT: Milad Dalju, Deputy Director/Chief of Enforcement of Oakland Public Ethics Commission; Jeff Smejkal, Assistant Director, Bureau of Delinquent Revenue; Sheila Robleto, Collection Supervisor, Bureau of Delinquent Revenue; Amanda Fried, Policy & Legislation Manager, Office of the Treasurer-Tax Collector; Larry Bush; David Pilpel; Charles Spencer; Alpha Buie; Ace Washington; Hülda Garfolo; and other unidentified members of the public.
- December 19, 2016 special meeting draft minutes.
- Staff’s Administrative Hearing Brief and Exhibits concerning the Hearing on the Merits – In re Alpha Buie, Treasurer and African American Democratic Club, SFEC No. 13-131112.
- Staff’s Report & Recommendation, SOTF Response, Joel Warne’s Response and supporting documents concerning Ethics Commission Complaint Nos. 1516-23 & 1516-24, Joel Warne v. Nancy Sarieh & Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, and SOTF Response.
- January 18, 2017 Proposed Enforcement Policy for Investigation Suspension and Parallel Proceedings Policy.
- January 18, 2017 New Ethics Commission Website Staff Report.
- January 18, 2017 Proposed Budget Framework and Recommendations.
- January 18, 2017 Enforcement Program Report and attachments.
- Executive Director’s Report and attachments for the January 23, 2017 Regular Meeting.
2. Public comment on matters appearing or not appearing on the agenda.
3. Discussion and possible action on draft minutes for the Commission’s December 19, 2016 special meeting.
Commissioner Kopp requested that the following changes be made: Item 7, 2nd paragraph of the “Discussion for Enforcement Report,” the word “Court’s” be changed to “BDR.” On page 5, change the sentence right above “Public Comment” to read “The individual Commissioners acknowledged and congratulated Executive Director Pelham on her election to the Governing Board of the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws. Lastly, the 4th bullet point on page 5, the word “developed” be changed to the present tense “develop.”
Motion 170123-01 (Kopp/Chiu): Moved, seconded and passed (5-0) that the Commission approve the minutes for the December 19, 2016 special meeting, as amended.
4. Hearing on the Merits – In re Alpha Buie, Treasurer, African American Democratic Club, SFEC No.13-131112.
Deputy Director Blome introduced Mr. Dalju from the Oakland Public Ethics Commission who represented staff.
Mr. Dalju began his presentation by introducing himself and explained the history of the case. He noted that in the brief Ms. Buie and the African American Democratic Club were listed as respondents, but in the probable cause and the accusation that was issued by the Commission only applied to Ms. Buie.
Mr. Dalju recommended striking the African American Democratic Club from the recommendation by staff for these violations.
Ms. Buie then proceeded with her presentation. Ms. Buie explained that at one point she was working with then-Director John St. Croix to get copies of the committee’s bank statements from Wells Fargo Bank, but the bank said it no longer had any records of the committee’s account. Ms. Buie responded to individual Commissioners as they asked questions about the matter.
Commissioner Renne asked how staff arrived at the recommended $1,000 per violation.
Deputy Director Blome explained that staff looked at past fines for similar violations, which were about $500. Staff felt that because the case had to go to a hearing, the violation should be double that amount. Staff did have some information from the committee to mitigate the penalty amount, which is why they arrived at the recommended $1,000 per violation.
Commissioner Chiu commented that the $1,000 per violation was excessive and disproportionate to the actions Ms. Buie has taken. Commissioner Chiu proposed to change the violation amount from $1,000 to $1 per violation.
Commissioner Hayon commented on her thoughts about the hearing and supported Commissioner Chiu’s amendment to reduce each of the three violations.
Mr. Spencer introduced himself and explained the operation of the African American Democratic Club. He answered each of the Commissioner’s questions when asked.
Mr. Pilpel stated that he believed Jo Elias-Jackson was a City employee and may still be and that staff should try to reach out to her. He also mentioned that the committee’s identification number, 981276, may be incorrect as it would suggest it was created back in 1998. Mr. Pilpel wanted to know if there was any outreach to the FPPC about similar enforcement matters and protocols about terminating such committees. Lastly, he commented that additional training for such committees is needed.
Motion 170123-02 (Chiu/Hayon): Moved, seconded and passed (5-0) that the Commission approve the finding that Ms. Buie committed three violations of the Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance. The Commission amended the administrative penalty from $1,000 per violation to $1 per violation and ordered Ms. Buie to file missing campaign statements.
5. Presentation and Discussion from the Bureau of Delinquent Revenue (BDR) about its collection processes and status of Ethics Commission referrals.
Mr. Smejkal gave a presentation about how cases are processed in the Bureau of Delinquent Revenue. He answered individual questions from the Commissioners about general processes. Mr. Smejkal also answered specific questions about outstanding matters currently at BDR.
Mr. Bush from Friends of Ethics asked if staff could report the payment plans for those persons who entered into settlement agreements and if those persons are paying according to the agreements.
Mr. Pilpel commented on Mr. Bush’s comment. Mr. Pilpel commented on Chris Jackson’s cases at BDR.
Mr. Washington introduced himself and his interest about learning more about the Ethics Commission.
6. Re-hearing of Joel Warne v. Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, Nancy Sarieh, SFEC Nos. 1516-23 & 1516-24.
Chair Renne stated the matter will be continued to the Commission’s next Regular Meeting in February due to the complainant’s health issues and a request for a re-hearing by the complainant because he claimed he did not get timely notified of the re-hearing.
Mr. Pilpel asked that next month’s agenda packet include staff’s response to the complainant’s re-hearing request as mentioned in the email at Exhibit 1.
7. Discussion and possible action on Proposed Enforcement Policy for Investigation Suspension and Parallel Proceedings.
Deputy Director Blome explained the background of the proposal to change the Commission’s policy on investigation suspension and parallel proceedings.
Commissioner Kopp requested that on page 4, list item 1 of the “Ethics Commission Investigation Suspension Policy” section of the Policy report be amended to include “and then resume such investigations.” at the end of the sentence.
Commission Kopp also requested that the second to last sentence on page 4 be changed to read: “The Executive Director and/or Commission reserves the right…” Commissioner Kopp asked if the Commission has such authority.
Deputy Director Blome explained that the Commission does not have the authority to initiate an investigation and, subsequently, is not informed when an investigation suspension is requested. She advised against Commissioner Kopp’s second requested change.
Ms. Blome answered subsequent questions from the Commissioners.
Commissioner Keane commented on the relationship of the Ethics Commission with the City Attorney and District Attorney’s offices.
Chair Renne commented and requested that, in addition to Commissioner Kopp’s first request, list item number 1 on page 4 should read “At the City Attorney or District Attorney’s Request, Staff will suspend its administrative investigations and then resume such investigations unless the Executive Director or Commission determines otherwise.”
Director Pelham expressed concern that the Commission should not have a role in directing investigations and suggested the language proposed by Chair Renne regarding list item number 1 not refer to the Commission.
Mr. Bush commented on line item #2 on page 4 of the Policy Proposal.
Mr. Pilpel commented on the policy proposal. He recommended that the investigations policy be posted on the Commission’s website.
Mr. Washington expressed his concerns.
Motion 170123-03 (Kopp/Keane): Moved, seconded and passed (5-0) that the Commission approve the Proposed Enforcement Policy for Investigation Suspension and Parallel Proceedings, as amended.
8. Presentation and Discussion on new Ethics Commission website and planned outreach activities.
Mr. Massey presented the new Ethics Commission website, showcasing the new features and webpages designed to make user interaction easier.
Ms. Thaikkendiyil introduced herself as the Commission’s FUSE Senior Fellow. She explained her role and future projects designed to redesign and improve website content and user interaction. Ms. Thaikkendiyil explained that the Ethics Commission will participate in the Committee on Information Technology (COIT) San Francisco Public Voice Program, which is a program that encourages San Francisco residents to test websites and offer their feedback to identify improvements. Staff will also receive a professional consultation from the Lighthouse for the Blind to assist and improve website accessibility to the visually impaired.
The Commissioners commended staff on their efforts in creating the new website.
Mr. Bush requested several features be added to the new website.
Mr. Pilpel commented on the new website and thanked staff for their work.
The Commission began a 10-minute recess at 8:01 pm. The Commission returned at 8:11 pm.
9. Discussion and possible action on proposed Ethics Commission budget framework and recommendations for FY18 and FY19.
Executive Director Pelham introduced the item for the Commission’s consideration and possible action. Ms. Pelham emphasized the importance of realigning staff positions and increasing resources for staff development. Ms. Pelham answered the Commissioner’s questions about salary savings.
Commissioner Chiu expressed her concern about the Mayor’s 3% budget cuts and how it would affect the Commission’s FY17 budget increase for new positions.
Commissioner Keane expressed his concern over the budget process.
Commissioner Renne expressed his support for the budget proposal.
Motion 170123-04 (Chiu/Hayon): Moved, seconded and passed (5-0) that the Commission endorse staff’s proposed budget framework and recommendations.
Ms. Garfolo from Friends of Ethics stated that Friends of Ethics strongly supported the Commission’s budget proposal and that the Commission’s new website demonstrated funds well spent. She commended staff on their work.
Mr. Bush from Friends of Ethics thanked staff for the budget proposal.
Mr. Pilpel supported the direction of the budget proposal.
10. Discussion of Enforcement Report.
Ms. Blome summarized ongoing policy research, projects, and investigations as outlined in the Enforcement Program Report.
Chair Renne thanked Ms. Blome for the report.
Mr. Bush from Friends of Ethics proposed that there be the option for low-budget committees that have committed violations to satisfy their penalties by doing community service.
Mr. Pilpel commented on the Sunshine Ordinance requirement concerning scheduling items about meeting decorum. He observed that Attachment 1 “Age of Matters in Preliminary Review” chart of Agenda Item 10 has an overlapping date range.
11. Discussion of Executive Director’s Report.
Executive Director Pelham announced that Jarrod Flores will become the new Information Systems Business Analyst (1052). He will be working with Steven Massey on the efiling conversion project effective January 30.
Ms. Pelham reviewed the hiring process for open positions, averaging about three months for exempt positions and six months for non-exempt positions. There is no in-house personnel or finance persons who manage the hiring process and that staff are currently multitasking these roles. Ms. Pelham reported that Dorys Lorio from the City’s Human Resources Department (DHR) has been working with the department to get these positions filled in a timely manner. She expressed her confidence that the process is on track and they will continue to work with DHR to keep the process moving. Ms. Pelham answered questions from the Commissioners about specific positions.
Ms. Pelham also noted that Catie Hinckley Kelley, the State and Local Reform Program Director of the Campaign Legal Center, will visit to discuss with staff their concerns and insights into administering local campaign finance and lobbying laws. This was also an opportunity for her to share her own insight into what is happening at the federal level.
Mr. Bush commented on the Whistleblower legislation and urged that the Commission to incorporate the suggestions mentioned in his last presentation.
Mr. Pilpel commented on the length of the hiring process. He also mentioned that page 2 of the Memorandum of Understanding was missing from the agenda packet.
12. Closed session to discuss the status of current investigations. This session is closed because complaints and investigations are confidential under SF Charter section C3.699-13, California Government Code section 54956.9, and Sunshine Ordinance section 67.12.
Mr. Pilpel asked if the Commission could disclose if there were any stipulations that have not been agreed to other than questions about the status of enforcement matters. The Commission said there were none this month. Mr. Pilpel asked that there be a way to formalize stipulations that do not require a closed session either in the Executive Director’s Report or the Enforcement Report.
Motion 170123-05 (Chiu/Kopp): Moved, seconded and passed (5-0) that the Commission move into closed session.
The Commission entered closed session at 9:17 PM. All Commissioners, Deputy City Attorney Andrew Shen, Executive Director Pelham, Deputy Director Blome, and Staff Person Flores remained in the hearing room. The Commission returned to open session at 9:27 PM.
Motion 170123-06 (Keane/Kopp): Moved, seconded and passed (5-0) that the Commission not disclose closed session discussions.
13. Discussion and possible action on items for future meetings.
14. Additional opportunity for public comment on matters appearing or not appearing on the agenda pursuant to the Ethics Commissions Bylaws Article VII Section 2.
Motion 170123-07 (Kopp/Chiu): Moved, seconded, and passed (5-0) that the Commission adjourn.
The Commission adjourned at 9:29 PM.