Draft Minutes of the Regular Meeting of
The San Francisco Ethics Commission
Friday, March 15, 2019
Room 416 – City Hall
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102
(Approved __, 2019)
Note: SFGovTV provides a continuous archive of selected Commission, council and board meetings that allows viewers to watch those meetings online in full at the viewer’s convenience. Video and audio archives of Ethics Commission meetings may be accessed here.
1. Call to order and roll call.
Chair Daina Chiu called the meeting to order at 2:00 pm.
COMMISSION MEMBERS PRESENT: With Chair Daina Chiu, Vice-Chair Noreen Ambrose, and Commission Members Yvonne Lee and Fern M. Smith in attendance, and one vacancy on the Commission, all members and a quorum was present.
Chair Chiu noted the resignation of Commissioner Quentin L. Kopp, which occurred on March 5th, and she thanked him for his service to San Francisco and while a member of the Ethics Commission.
Chair Chiu stated that the next Commission meeting will take place Friday, April 12, beginning at 1:30 pm in Room 416 City Hall. The Regular Meeting for April was originally scheduled for Friday April 19 at 2:00 pm.
STAFF PRESENT: LeeAnn Pelham, Executive Director; Jeffrey Pierce, Director of Enforcement and Legal Affairs; Pat Ford, Senior Policy Analyst; Brian Cox, Policy Analyst; Steven Massey, Director of Technology Services; Rachel Gage, Principal Program Manager for Engagement & Compliance; John Kim, Senior Program Administrator for Engagement & Compliance; Jeffrey Zumwalt, Senior Investigative Analyst; Thomas McClain, Senior Investigative Analyst; Eric Willett, Senior Investigative Analyst; Robert Hodge, Auditor.
REPRESENTATIVES OF THE OFFICE OF THE CITY ATTORNEY PRESENT: Andrew Shen, Deputy City Attorney.
OTHERS PRESENT: Ellen Lee Zhou; Douglas Yep.
- Draft minutes for the February 15, 2019 regular meeting of the Ethics Commission.
- Staff informational memorandum dated March 11, 2019 regarding informational presentation on report required by SFC&GCC Code Sec. 1.156 o the use of public financing in the 2018 Elections. A copy of the report was distributed at the meeting.
- Staff’s monthly Policy Report dated March 11, 2019 and attachments.
- Staff’s monthly Enforcement Report dated March 11, 2019 and attachments.
- Executive Director’s Report dated March 11, 2019. An overview presented by the Executive Director at the meeting was distributed at the meeting.
2. Public comment on matters appearing or not appearing on the agenda.
Under Item 2, the Commission received public comment on matters appearing or not appearing on the agenda.
Ellen Lee Zhou identified herself as a public employee and a member of the California Civil Grand Jury association and a resident of San Francisco for the last 30 years. She requested that the Ethics Commission stop corruption and stated that Super PACs have been controlling politics in the City and that she had been excluded from Mayoral debates.
Douglas Yep identified himself as a resident of San Francisco for 67 years. He stated that it was important for him to put certain things on the record.
CONSENT CALENDAR ITEMS
Chair Chiu called the Consent Calendar item and provided the opportunity for public comment.
3. Draft minutes for the February 15, 2019 Ethics Commission regular meeting.
No public comment was received.
Chair Chiu moved adoption of the draft minutes for the February 15, 2019 Ethics Commission regular meeting. Commissioner Smith seconded the motion. The motion was unanimously approved.
Motion 190315-01 (Chiu/Smith): Moved, seconded and passed unanimously (4-0) that the Commission adopt the draft minutes for the February 15, 2019 Ethics Commission regular meeting.
4. Informational presentation on report required by SF C&GCC Sec. 1.156 on Public Financing in the 2018 Elections.
Senior Policy Analyst Pat Ford introduced Policy Analyst Brian Cox and then presented the item, a report about the use of public financing during the 2018 election.
Ford noted that Section 1.156 of the San Francisco Campaign & Governmental Conduct Code requires the Commission to report to the Board of Supervisors and Mayor after each election in which public funds were distributed to candidates about the use of public funds in that election. In 2018, June elections were held for Mayor following the death of Mayor Edwin Lee and for one Supervisorial seat. Ford stated the report was not designed to provide recommendations about the public financing program and noted that development of recommendations is part of a separate but ongoing policy review process at the Commission.
Ford highlighted each section of the report and the information it provided, which was based on data from candidate campaign disclosure statements through December 31, 2018 both the June and November elections. Information provided includes: candidate total fundraising; the percentage of candidate funds made up by public funds; candidate spending, spending limits, and required spending adjustments; third-party spending to influence candidate campaigns and the proportion of supportive and opposition spending on candidates that spending represented; and candidate rates of participation in the program.
Ford referenced the concluding section of the report, which provides an overview of the Commission’s policy review of the public financing program. He hopes the report’s data will be helpful in further analyses of the program as discussions to improve the program continue.
Ford acknowledged the contributions of other Commission Staff who assisted in the data analysis and production of the report. He noted public copies were available at the meeting, and that a copy of the report will be posted online and forwarded to the Board and Mayor.
Chair Chiu thanked Ford and the Staff for the report.
Commissioner Lee noted a finding that opposition spending on candidates by third parties was relatively low. She asked Ford whether the City’s use of ranked choice voting affects this. Ford responded that this may be the case but that it would need to be looked at further. Commissioner Lee stated she welcomes any further data or analysis on that question.
Chair Chiu asked about the funding of the $7 million program. Ford stated that funding is through an annual General Fund appropriation equal to $2.75 per resident. Chair Chiu said she would like information about funds used over time and to explore how the program can be further promoted so the Fund is used to its maximum.
Commissioner Lee referenced a possible citizenship question on the next census that may discourage people from participating and said the size of the public financing could be diminished as a result. Ford stated that if the calculation by the Controller’s Office is based exclusively on Federal census data then that might occur. Commissioner Lee said she would welcome further information on the potential impact to the program.
No public comment was received on the item.
No action was taken on the item as it was provided for informational purposes only.
5. Discussion of monthly Staff Policy Report.
Senior Policy Analyst Pat Ford introduced the item and highlighted recent interested persons meetings hosted by Staff meetings to examine substantive features of the Public Financing program. Ford stated that public input received will be compiled for the Commission’s April meeting with recommendations on the substantive aspects of the public financing system.
Ford noted that the Policy team would next turn to regulations of the Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance (“CFRO”) and work to bring those regulations to the Commission in April. The recommendations will include implementing regulations for the Anti-Corruption and Accountability Ordinance (“ACAO”) adopted last year and other update required by other changes to CFRO over time.
Ford added that the policy team continues to assess and identify ways to improve the Commission’s disclosure of campaign finance related to online advertisements, including by providing increased education to the public about what disclaimers on ads mean.
Ford said Staff is tracking an initiative ordinance proposed by Supervisor Mar, the Sunlight on Dark Money Initiative, as some provisions it contains were acted on in the past by the Commission and it would have an impact on laws administered by the Commission.
Chair Chiu asked for an update on Supervisor Mar’s sponsorship of the public financing ordinance approved by the Commission at the February meeting. Ford confirmed that ordinance was introduced to the full Board of Supervisors on March 12 and will be referred to Committee. Chair Chiu requested a further update at the April meeting.
Commissioner Smith stated she is interested in the Mar initiative and asked if Commissioners could submit comments or questions for incorporation into any memo that Staff might submit to the Board of Supervisors as that item is considered. Ford welcomed any comments or suggestions so those topics could be addressed.
Commissioner Ambrose noted that because this is a ballot measure, restrictions apply as to how the Commission might communicate about the measure, limiting its remarks to factual and neutral information and not advocacy. Ford affirmed that would be the Staff’s approach.
Deputy City Attorney Shen noted that there would be at least one hearing before the Board before November and noted that the Commission could prepare its submission without waiting to learn when that hearing might be, subject to the restrictions Commissioner Ambrose referenced.
Ford said Staff are preparing materials and trainings with regard to its campaign disclosure oversight responsibilities at three City Boards with “Trustee Election” processes: the City and County of San Francisco Retirement Board; the Health Services Board; and the Retiree Health Services Trust Fund Board.
Regarding the expansion of electronic filing for all Form 700 filers, Chair Chiu asked whether that would require meet and confer with the City’s bargaining units. Ford responded that it would likely require “meet and consult.”
Commissioner Ambrose asked about the status of the ACAO implementation. Ford confirmed that the forms implementing that law are in place and that information is being added to the candidate guides.
Hearing no other questions or comments by Members of the Commission, Chair Chiu called for public comment.
No public comment was received.
No action was taken on the item.
6. Discussion of monthly Staff Enforcement Report.
Director of Enforcement and Legal Affairs Jeff Pierce introduced the item and highlighted recent activities of the division, including training hosted by the Ethics Commission on whistleblower retaliation investigation techniques and an overview of relevant laws. Agencies represented included the State Labor Commissioner’s Office, which is the office that enforces the State of California’s whistleblower protection program. State officials discussed best practices for investigations.
Pierce highlighted information about debts being handled by the Bureau of Delinquent Revenues and provided an overview of the latest statistics regarding pending preliminary reviews and investigations.
Chair Chiu asked about the higher number of complaints that have been received and asked whether this was due to the recent elections. Pierce said that it was possible because of the two elections in 2018 and the fact that there were no elections in 2017. In response to a question by Chair Chiu about current Enforcement Division staffing levels, Pierce said that an investigative analyst was promoted to Senior Investigative Analyst, so the analyst position is now open.
Pierce noted that Commissioner Kopp had recently cited the time taken to complete investigations. Pierce said that Enforcement staff are looking at whether there are ways to streamline enforcement investigations while still keeping investigations thorough, fair, and accurate. He said that prioritizing certain complaints would enable staff to devote resources to some types of complaints over others, but at the cost of potentially not addressing all complaints equally. He added that Staff is continuing to assess its practices and looks forward to engaging with the Commission on this topic.
Chair Chiu said that she welcomes Staff’s recommendations on how to improve Enforcement practices. She highlighted the statistics on the number and age of complaints and stated that it is important in building public trust to work through the complaints. She encouraged Staff attention on the oldest cases to ensure that they are resolved soon. Chair Chiu said that she has full faith and confidence in Staff’s investigation abilities and attributes that to hard work by good staff members and to good leadership by Director Pelham.
Hearing no questions or comments by Members of the Commission, Chair Chiu called for public comment.
Douglas Yep stated he has experienced the Whistleblower process from beginning to end and believes it is a waste of time. He stated his belief that there are more people discouraged than who go through the process of seeking protections by filing retaliation complaints. Encouraging people to file complaints requires that they have faith in the system, and he does not believe this is the case at this point.
No action was taken on the item as it was provided for informational purposes only.
7. Discussion of Executive Director’s Report.
Director Pelham highlighted various updates from the monthly Executive Director’s Report. She noted that the annual Statement of Economic Interests filings (Form 700s) were due soon.
Pelham welcomed five new staff to the Commission and introduced them to the Commission:
- Brian Cox, Policy Analyst, who joined the Commission from the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office;
- Rachel Gage, Principal Program Manager for Engagement & Compliance, who was previously with the City’s General Services Agency and Office of Contract Administration;
- John Kim, Senior Program Administrator for Engagement & Compliance, who was previously a Political Reform Consultant with the state Fair Political Practices Commission;
- Jeff Zumwalt, Senior Investigative Analyst, who was most recently an Investigative Analyst with the Ethics Commission; and
- Amy Li, Principal Program Manager for Engagement & Compliance, who most recently was serving as Acting Audit Supervisor at the Ethics Commission.
Pelham then presented an overview report related to the Ethics Commission’s FY20 budget request. She highlighted guiding principles Staff used to evaluate budgetary requests and reviewed the items and amounts requested for FY20. She described a request for a three-year limited term project that would be funded through the City’s COIT system (Committee on Information Technology) rather than the City’s General Fund. She relayed that the work of the Commission’s technology team is at the forefront of using technology to provide online solutions for public disclosure data and that the Commission is working with other City departments to extend the impact of the Commission’s processes while also streamlining them for improved citywide benefit.
Chair Chiu asked whether the Commission would have to request COIT funds annually for the project, and Pelham clarified that an application before COIT is project-based for three years of funding.
Pelham illustrated with enforcement caseload figures reported monthly on public enforcement reports first issued in April 2016 how Staff use data to track and internally assess operations. In addition to its importance for public accountability, the data also helps Staff and the public understand how elections, increased complaint volume, and staffing levels alike can affect the amount of time it takes to work through caseloads.
Pelham concluded noting the progress she believes the Commission can continue to make with the budget request it has made and with the continued support of the Mayor’s Office and the Board of Supervisors for the Commission’s budget and vision.
Chair Chiu thanked Pelham for the report and observed that anything taken from the Commission’s budget would cripple the Commission’s ability to fulfill its mandate.
Hearing no comments or questions from Members of the Commission the Chair called for public comment.
Douglas Yep thanked Director Pelham for her report. He stated he would like to see what the chart looks like from the beginning of the Commission’s existence, to compare historical data to what Pelham presented here with data beginning April 2016.
The Commission took no action on the item as it was provided for informational purposes only.
8. Discussion and possible action regarding status of complaints received or initiated by the Ethics Commission. Possible Closed Session.
Chair Chiu provided the opportunity for public comment and no public comment was received.
The Commission held no discussion and took no action on the item.
9. Discussion and possible action on items for future meetings.
No items were discussed.
Douglas Yep stated that the Commission needs to discuss the previous administration of the Ethics Commission, noting he considered this essential to ensuring the Commission’s effectiveness. He stated that many prosecutors want to make a name for themselves by addressing obstruction of justice and cleaning up San Francisco.
No action was taken on the item.
10. Additional opportunity for public comment on matters appearing or not appearing on the agenda pursuant to Ethics Commission Bylaws Article VII Section 2.
Chair Chiu provided the opportunity for public comment.
No public comment was received.
Chair Chiu called for a motion to adjourn. Unanimously (4-0) approved a motion by Commissioner Lee moved to adjourn the meeting and Commissioner Smith seconded the motion. Adopted unanimously 4-0.
Motion 190315-02 (Lee/Smith): Moved, seconded and passed that the Commission adjourn the meeting.
The Commission adjourned at 3:42 pm.