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Minutes – October 18, 2019

Minutes of the Regular Meeting of
The San Francisco Ethics Commission
Friday, October 18, 2019
Room 416 – City Hall
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102
(Approved: November 15, 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 2:01 pm.

COMMISSION MEMBERS PRESENT: With Chair Daina Chiu, Vice-Chair Noreen Ambrose, and Commission Members Fern M. Smith and Lateef Gray in attendance, a quorum was present. Commissioner Yvonne Lee was not in attendance and had an excused absence.

STAFF PRESENTING: Tyler Field, Information Systems Engineer; Patrick Ford, Senior Policy and Legislative Affairs Counsel; Jeffrey Pierce, Director of Enforcement and Legal Affairs; and LeeAnn Pelham, Executive Director.



2. Public comment on matters appearing or not appearing on the agenda.

Chair Chiu provided the opportunity for public comment. No public comment was provided.

3. Consent Calendar

Chair Chiu provided the opportunity for public comment on the Consent Calendar. No public comment was provided.

Commissioner Smith made a motion and Vice Chair Ambrose seconded the motion to approve the Consent Calendar, Items 3 and 4. Motion passed unanimously 4-0 to approve the Consent Calendar as proposed of the following items:

  • Item 3, Draft Minutes for the Commission’s September 20, 2019 regular meeting; and
  • Item 4, Proposed Stipulation, Decision, and Order In the Matter of It’s Our Time, SF Women Supporting London Breed for Mayor 2018 (SFEC Complaint No. 1718-134B).

Motion 191018-01 (Smith/Ambrose): Moved, seconded and passed unanimously (4-0) that the Commission adopt its Consent Calendar items.

5. Informational presentation on new Ethics Commission data dashboard tools for the November 2019 election.

Tyler Field, Information Systems Engineer introduced the item and presented a brief overview of campaign finance deadlines and new tools the Commission has made available on its website to enable improved public information about the disclosures made on those filings. He noted that previously the Commission’s data dashboards reflected disclosures reported by committees on their campaign statements retrospectively. As a result, data reported may not provide the most current snapshot of a committee’s activities.

Field noted that the campaign finance dashboards now show data disclosed in a way that includes data from various “late” reports filed prior to an election. He described that funds raised and expenditures made are now updated to reflect a new “Running Sums” tab. Another new tool enables viewing of an “Estimated Cash Balance” of committees, which illustrates both funds received and expenses accrued. A new “Top 10 Occupations of Contributors per Committee” is also available, as is “Top 10 Employers of Contributors per Committee.”

Chair Chiu asked to clarify un-itemized contributions, and Field responded that they are the cumulative total of all contributions of under $100 that are not required to be detailed on a disclosure statement.

Field illustrated that new geographic mapping tools are also in development this year, for example to enable district-based searches, which would be in addition to the current ability to map itemized contributors by zip code.  Links to committee advertisements to enable the public to view those ads directly are also in development. Chair Chiu asked Field to illustrate the geographic mapping feature using Proposition C on the November 2019 ballot to show how images of a committee’s campaign contribution activities can be viewed.

Field also described the outreach planned on use of these tools, including to members of the press and expansion of briefings to other audiences, as well.

Chair Chiu noted these tools are a quantum leap forward for public accessibility and understanding and asked for continued briefings by staff to showcase this work, including ongoing updates about the outreach efforts being pursued.

Chair Chiu called for public comment.

Ellen Lee Zhou stated she is concerned about the single-party nature of San Francisco politics and that whatever Ethics staff and volunteers do, it is unlawful, because the US Constitution states that we have a republican form of government, whereas for 45 years only democrats have held office in San Francisco. She stated she was challenging the Ethics Commission members and Staff to pursue rather than contribute to corruption in City government.

6. Discussion of Staff Policy Report.

Senior Policy and Legislative Affairs Counsel Pat Ford presented the item and reported on key updates on ongoing projects. He noted that on October 4 the Mayor signed the public financing ordinance, and that it is slated to become operative on January 1, 2020. He added that division leads in the office are coordinating to ensure a smooth rollout of the new law’s implementation.

On the Form 700 e-filing project, Ford reported that November 6 is tentatively planned for a meeting with employee bargaining units to discuss the project scope and ensure they are fully a part of the process. He said he anticipated many unions may wish to engage on the issue. In response to questions from the Chair, Ford reported there is no time frame by which these meetings must occur and there could be several such meetings to complete the meet and confer process. Chair Chiu offered to assist on behalf of the Commission and asked that the Staff keep the Commission informed about ongoing developments.

Ford also noted the initiation of a training he recently designed to provide City employees and officials with information about their ethics duties under the law. Following the recent Mayor’s Department Head meeting at which several department heads requested briefings, Ford and Principal Program Manager for Engagement & Compliance Rachel Gage conducted a session on October 16 for the Contract Monitoring Division of the Office of Contract Administration.  Additional sessions are in the planning stages. Chair Chiu asked that the Commission be kept informed about the kinds of questions are that are typically received at such sessions.

Chair Chiu called for public comment.

Ellen Lee Zhou stated that she does not believe the Commission’s reports are always as they seem. She believes the Commission has the duty to improve the City’s election process and believes the City’s Election department should be audited and that the Ethics Commission is not accountable.

No other public comment was received and no action was taken on the item.

7. Discussion of Staff Enforcement Report.

Chair Chiu noted that the briefing planned for today’s meeting on the Commission’s jurisdiction on whistleblower protections was continued to the November Commission meeting. At that time, Commissioner Lee also will be in attendance and able to participate in the discussion.

Director of Enforcement & Legal Affairs Jeff Pierce presented the Enforcement Report. He noted the caseload data continues to show a downward trend in the timeframes in which cases are being resolved. Chair Chiu asked about whether there is typically an increase in complaints received during an election season. Pierce responded that is typically the case, but that he had not run the numbers to offer a precise answer. However, he noted anecdotally that it could be the case that the number of hotly contested races also contributes to the spike in cases in the period just prior to an election.

Pierce also reviewed information about the Fines Collection process and referrals to the Bureau of Delinquent Revenues (Bureau) detailed in the Staff report, including an example of a debtor referred by the Commission that had defaulted on its payment plan and later sought to renegotiate a more favorable penalty with Commission Staff. Staff directed the debtor to engage directly with the Bureau.

Chair Chiu asked whether it is prohibited or permitted for the Commission to take up the matter after referral to the Bureau. Deputy City Attorney Shen stated that the Commission could participate in discussions between the Bureau and the debtor. Vice-Chair Ambrose asked whether the statute of limitations for the debtor to seek a writ or judicial review of the penalty or whether the debtor, in agreeing to the penalty, had committed to a contract with the City that waives their right to challenge the appropriateness of the fine. Pierce stated that he believed that the statute of limitations to writ the City is 30 days, and that the debtor was past that deadline in this instance. He further stated that he did not know whether the Bureau considers a payment plan to constitute a contract, but that it was plausible that a debtor could be considered to have breached its obligations under such a contract.

Commissioner Gray noted that the Enforcement Report indicated that one debtor had refused to pay and asked in what form that refusal had been communicated. Pierce stated that the refusal had been conveyed to the Bureau and not to the Commission. Commissioner Gray asked in what form a promise to pay might be communicated. Pierce responded that he understood negotiations to be conducted informally, either by email or over the phone, and offered to confirm with the Bureau.

In further discussion about whether the Commission may or should re-negotiate or revisit unpaid debts after referral to the Bureau, Vice-Chair Ambrose noted that if a payment plan is a contract then it represents an account receivable to the City, and that if it were considered a contract then the City’s Administrative Code contains provisions that may govern how the contract may be handled.

Chair Chiu asked what actions the Bureau is taking related to another debtor which the Commission referred six years ago. Vice-Chair Ambrose asked whether the costs involved in trying to locate a debtor might at some point outweigh the benefit the Bureau could ultimately derive and asked if the Commission is responsible for paying the Bureau for those efforts. Pierce responded that he understood the Memorandum of Understanding between the Bureau and the Commission to provide that the Bureau retain a percentage of each account it collects and that the Commission does not otherwise pay fees to the Bureau. Vice-Chair Ambrose stated that the Commission could defer to the Bureau’s cost-benefit analysis in that case.

Chair Chiu called for public comment.

No public comment was received and no action was taken on the item as it was provided for informational purposes only.

8.Discussion of Executive Director’s Report.

Executive Director LeeAnn Pelham highlighted that the October report included written details of recent staff news she had announced at the September meeting. She added that Arnoldo Calderon, Senior Systems Business Analyst with the Electronic Disclosure and Data Analysis team, had decided to take a position in the private sector and his last day in the office was October 11.

No public comment was received. No action was taken on the item as it was provided for informational purposes only.

9. Discussion and possible action on items for future meetings.

Chair Chiu provided the opportunity for public comment and no public comment was received. No items were discussed and 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 and no public comment was received.


Vice Chair Ambrose moved to adjourn the meeting and Commissioner Smith seconded the motion. The motion was adopted unanimously 4-0.

Motion 191018-02 (Ambrose/Smith): Moved, seconded and unanimously adopted that the Commission adjourn the meeting.

The Commission adjourned at 3:01 pm.

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