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Minutes – September 11, 2020


Minutes of the Regular Meeting of
The San Francisco Ethics Commission
Friday, September 11, 2020
Remote Meeting Held Online via WebEx and aired live on SFGovTV
(Approved October 9, 2020)

Note: SFGovTV provides a continuous archive of audio, video, and Caption Notes recordings of Ethics Commission meetings that allows viewers to watch those meetings online in full at the viewer’s convenience. These archives of Ethics Commission meetings may be accessed at SFGovTV at

Item 1. Call to order and roll call.

(Note: This item appears beginning at the 00:00:11 mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)

Chair Noreen Ambrose convened the meeting at 9:33 am and stated that the meeting is being held by Teleconference Pursuant to the Governor’s Executive Order N-29-20 and the Twelfth Supplement to Mayoral Proclamation Declaring the Existence of a Local Emergency Dated February 25, 2020. Online Meeting Moderator Ronald Contreraz summarized procedures for remote participation by members of the public.

COMMISSION MEMBERS PRESENT: With Chair Ambrose, Vice Chair Yvonne Lee, and Commissioners Daina Chiu, Fern Smith, and Larry Bush attending, a quorum was present.

STAFF PRESENTING: LeeAnn Pelham, Executive Director; Steven Massey, Director of Technology Services and Acting Chief Operating Officer; Patrick Ford, Senior Policy and Legislative Affairs Counsel; Jeffrey Pierce, Director of Enforcement and Legal Affairs and Acting Deputy Director; Ronald Contreraz, Online Meeting Moderator.



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

(Note: This item appears beginning at the 00:05:33 mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)

No public comment was received.


Chair Ambrose called the consent calendar.

Item 3. Draft Minutes for the Ethics Commission’s August 14, 2020 regular meeting.

(Note: This item appears beginning at the 00:08:18 mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)

Commissioner Bush requested to sever the Draft August Meeting Minutes from Consent in order to discuss them.  He stated he wished to ensure that the Commission’s minutes were consistent with the requirements in the Administrative Code, including that they specify the names and summarize the remarks of public commenters, and that they capture any specific concerns raised by commissioners. He asked Deputy City Attorney Shen to confirm those Sunshine Ordinance requirements apply to the Ethics Commission.

DCA Shen stated that the Sunshine Ordinance does apply to the Ethics Commission as a Charter entity, and that it requires the minutes to summarize public comment.

Chair Ambrose sought clarification about whether Commissioner Bush intended that the Minutes capture all back and forth of discussion and stated that the video and audio tape are generally superior sources of full content for purposes like reviewing legislative intent. Commissioner Bush stated that he did not intend that the Minutes capture all such discussion and acknowledged the usefulness of the tape as a thorough record of a meeting.

Director Pelham stated that the minutes could be amended to reflect the points noted.

Commissioner Bush moved that Item 3 be held over to the October 9 meeting so that the Minutes could be amended accordingly. Commissioner Smith seconded.

Public Comment

No public comment was received.

Motion 200911-01 (Bush/Smith): Moved, seconded, and passed unanimously (5-0) a motion to hold over the draft Minutes for the August 14, 2020 meeting for action on revised draft minutes at the Commission’s October meeting.


Item 4. Discussion and possible action on revised Draft Ethics Commission Annual Report for 2019-20.

(Note: This item appears beginning at the 00:21:57 mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)

Chair Ambrose thanked Commissioners Chiu and Bush for working with Staff to improve the report.

Director Pelham thanked those Commissioners and reviewed highlights of the revised draft Annual Report.

Commissioner Bush thanked Director Pelham and stated that the report is a good snapshot of the work the Commission has done. He emphasized that future reports should also clarify the relationship between the Commission and the rest of the City’s structure, so the public can better understand the authority the Commission has and does not have.

Commissioner Chiu stated that it was important for the Commission to communicate its work to the public so that its work has heightened visibility.

Chair Ambrose stated that each member of the commission is appointed by an elected official and she encouraged the Commission to reach out to their individual appointing authorities to solicit any feedback on the Commission that those officials may be receiving from their constituents.

Commissioner Chiu moved and Commissioner Bush seconded a motion to adopt the FY19-20 annual report as presented.

Public Comment

No public comment was received.

Motion 200911-02  (Chiu/Bush):  Moved, seconded, and passed unanimously (5-0) a motion to adopt the revised Ethics Commission Annual Report for 2019-20 as presented.

Item 5. Discussion and possible action on Staff report on budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 21.

(Note: This item appears beginning at the 0:38:07 mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)

Director Pelham and Technology Director and Acting Chief Operating Officer Steven Massey presented the Staff report on the budget.

Pelham updated the Commission on the Mayor’s decision to reduce the Commission’s attrition savings level to allow funding to hire the fourth investigator position in FY21. Pelham stated that Staff would work with the Department of Human Resources on an expedited hiring process. She stated the need to examine future funding methods and emphasized the value that creation of a “Citywide Integrity Fund” might have as a potential mechanism for future funding.

Commissioner Chiu expressed her disappointment that the Commission’s proposed Ethics@Work initiative would not be funded, stated that in the absence of training and education even the strongest written laws have less impact. She expressed her support for the possibility that City departments impacted by ethics issues might help provide funding for the Ethics Commission.

Commissioner Chiu clarified that the budget reflects when the Commission can begin paying those positions, not when it can begin seeking to fill those positions. Pelham confirmed that is the case.

Commissioner Bush encouraged the Commission to call out those officials and their departments for failing to adhere to their Departmental Statements of Incompatible Activities.  He added that the Commission should consider broadening its impact through fundraising and the forming of advisory committees to include individuals like former members of the Civil Grand Jury and others with expertise or resources to review government functions.

Chair Ambrose clarified with Director Pelham that the Citywide Integrity Fund does not yet exist, and that an action plan to develop and implement it in practice will be required. Pelham confirmed that was the case.

Chair Ambrose asked about the Form 700 e-filing for all project and whether Staff would train departmental filing officers to train their designated filers or whether the Commission would directly train those filers. Pelham confirmed that under the law individual Departments remain Filing Officers for designated filers and that Staff would train those filing officers.

Chair Ambrose suggested for a future agenda information about how the Commission engages with other departments about their Statements of Incompatible Activities, including regarding requests to engage in outside activities.

Chair Ambrose asked Deputy City Attorney Shen about the process of soliciting funds from outside sources. Shen highlighted three legal rules: (1) donations to departments of $10,000 or more must be approved by the Board of Supervisors; (2) departments must publish donations received on their websites; and (3) behested payment reporting requirements would likely apply. Shen advised the Commission to consider as a matter of policy who might be authorized to solicit on the Commission’s behalf should it wish to solicit donations for its work. Commissioner Lee asked that these legal requirements be explained in greater detail at a future meeting.

Public Comment

Francisco de Costa stated that with a $12.8 billion budget there is less need to discuss the budget at length and more need to reform organizations like the Ethics Commission, Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, Controller’s Office, and City Attorney’s Office. He stated that Dr. Derek Kerr had written in the Westside Observer a “needs assessment” of the Ethics Commission. Mr. de Costa stated that the public wants less discussion and more action from the Ethics Commission.

No action was taken by the Commission on this item.

The Commission took a brief recess and then resumed its regular public meeting.

Item 6. Discussion and possible action on monthly Staff Policy Report, including Ethics Commission proposed policy prioritization plan for FY21.

(Note: This item appears beginning at the 01:45:15 mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)

Senior Policy and Legislative Affairs Counsel Pat Ford presented the Staff Policy Report. He highlighted the Policy Prioritization Plan, emphasizing that it chiefly contains legislative projects but noted that policy staff are also engaged in implementation of various policy-related items not highlighted in the Plan. Ford identified two chief priorities for FY21: (1) reviewing the City’s Conflict of Interest Code and regulations, including gift rules and other core government ethics provisions; and (2) the Biennial Review of Form 700 filer lists.

Ford stated that the timeline for the Conflict of Interest Code review was roughly 12 months, including legislative changes and implementation of any changes and described the process generally.  He highlighted some initial items of interest for possible change and the goal of simplifying some of the rules to make them easier to follow. He noted the report is a starting point and that additional views would be solicited from stakeholders.

Commissioner Chiu expressed her support for this policy initiative and asked if a funding requirement to can be included in an ordinance or ballot initiate to ensure resources exist to implement the law.

Deputy City Attorney Shen responded that it is possible to include an appropriation in a ballot measure but that it is short-term only and that in subsequent years the budget process would govern the question of funding.

Commissioner Bush encouraged consideration for establishing an advisory group that could supplement the work of identifying substantive policy. He asked that the policy prioritization plan include a list of specific deliverables and stated he would be unable to support a plan that lacks that list.

Ford observed that timelines involved in policy projects can vary depending on the degree of stakeholder engagement. He noted that public engagement in the Commission’s Anti-Corruption and Accountability Ordinance (ACAO) and Public Financing Review Project had made those projects more vibrant and involved. Director Pelham added that policy projects require the participation of a range of Staff to ensure broad perspectives and input.

Commissioner Bush noted that the next election after November would be in March 2022 and emphasized the role that advisory committees might play, possibly including former Ethics Commissioners and former Civil Grand Jurors.

Ford explained the role that the Commission plays in the Biennial Code Review of Form 700 filer lists, the second project on the Policy Prioritization Plan. Deputy City Attorney Shen added that the proposal should be before the Board of Supervisors in October for possible adoption by the end of the calendar year.

After additional discussion, Commissioner Bush moved that the Commission adopt the Policy Prioritization Plan for review at the November meeting for reconsideration.

Commissioner Chiu seconded the motion with an amendment offered that was accepted by Commissioner Bush to adopt the Plan contained in the monthly Staff report and that Staff provide an update in November for possible action by the Commission at that time.

Public Comment

Francisco de Costa expressed frustration with the Ethics Commission, the Board of Supervisors, the City Attorney, and the Controller. He emphasized the need for quick action.

Motion 200911-03  (Bush/Chiu):  Moved, seconded, and passed unanimously (5-0) a motion to approve the Policy Prioritization Plan for the next sixty days, with a progress report in November and preserving possible additional action at that time.

Item 7.  Discussion of monthly Staff Enforcement Report.

(Note: This item appears beginning at the 02:53:03 mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)

Enforcement Director Jeff Pierce described the contents of the Staff Enforcement Report.

Commissioner Chiu asked for specific details regarding any debts that might expire so the Commission may consider whether to take back any accounts and pursue alternative collection methods.

Commissioner Bush stated his interest in having future monthly enforcement reports identify the number and date of referrals to the City Attorney and District Attorney each month and the number of matters that those offices have requested the Commission to stand down on.

Chair Ambrose noted an article in the Westside Observer about the Commission’s whistleblower protection jurisdiction and directed Staff to explore ways to communicate the Commission’s role to the growing list of whistleblowers during this period of reckoning with public corruption.

No public comment was received.

No action was taken as it was provided for informational purposes only.

Item 8. Discussion of Executive Director’s Report.

(Note: This item appears beginning at the 03:09:30 mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)

Director Pelham presented the report, highlighting updated data on public financing program participation in the November 2020 election.

Commissioner Lee recommended that the Commission increase its educational outreach activities, particularly consider the possibility of remote facilitation. She urged the Commission to expand its view of who might be an “interested person.” Commissioner Chiu volunteered to participate in community outreach and agreed with Commissioner Lee about the value of remote facilitation for reaching new audiences.

Commissioner Chiu asked for an update on Statement of Economic Interest (Form 700) non-filers. Pelham stated that she believed that the number of non-filers had gone down since the last Commission meeting from 18 to 14 and that the next step would be a contact from the Commission’s Enforcement Division.

Commissioner Bush added his agreement with Commissioner Lee’s call for greater outreach. He characterized the current approach to Interested Persons’ meetings as reactive, inviting stakeholders to give feedback on staff proposals, and stated that stakeholders might also provide input on what priorities the Commission should pursue.

No public comment was received.

No action was taken as the item was for informational purposes only.

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

(Note: This item appears beginning at the 03:26:36 minute mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)

Commissioner Bush requested to look at the Redistricting Task Force and whether its activities are covered by city’s gift and lobbying laws; to consider regulation of strategic advisors; and to give consideration of a community interested persons meeting for input on prioritization of work for the Ethics Commission.

Chair Ambrose asked that additional information be provided to the Commission about the development of an action plan for establishing a Citywide Integrity Fund for increased and sustainable Commission funding, and other ways to augment Commission resources to perform ongoing work. She asked Deputy City Attorney Shen to speak at the October 9 meeting regarding what additional information if any may be required to be disclosed on Form 700.

Vice-Chair Lee asked whether the Commission should push back the November 13 meeting by one week to enable more time after the November election and Chair Ambrose suggested that could be considered at the next meeting on October 9.

No public comment was received.

No action was taken.

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.

(Note: This item appears beginning at the 03:39:54 minute mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)

No public comment was received.

No action was taken.

Item 11. Adjournment.

(Note: This item appears beginning at the 03:42:33 minute mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)


Motion 200911-04 (Chiu/Smith): Moved, seconded, and passed unanimously (5-0) to adjourn the meeting.


The Commission adjourned at 1:12 p.m.

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