Minutes of the Regular Meeting of
The San Francisco Ethics Commission
Friday, June 11, 2021
Remote Meeting Held Online via WebEx and aired live on SFGovTV
(Approved July 9, 2021)
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 http://sanfrancisco.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=142.
Item 1. Call to order and roll call.
(Note: This item appears beginning at the 00:04:03 mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)
Chair Noreen Ambrose convened the meeting at 9:37 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, Larry Bush, and James Bell attending, a quorum was present.
STAFF PRESENTING: LeeAnn Pelham, Executive Director; Jeff Pierce, Director of Enforcement and Legal Affairs; Jeff Zumwalt, Senior Investigator; Ronald Contreraz, Online Meeting Moderator.
REPRESENTATIVES OF THE OFFICE OF THE CITY ATTORNEY PRESENT: Andrew Shen, Deputy City Attorney.
- Draft Minutes for May 14, 2021 meeting
- Draft Ethics Commission Annual Report
- Staff presentation on Ethics Commission annual budget
- Staff Enforcement Report
- Executive Director’s Report
Item 2. Public comment on matters appearing or not appearing on the agenda.
(Note: This item appears beginning at the 00:05:57 mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)
No public comment was received.
CONSENT CALENDAR ITEMS
Chair Ambrose called the consent calendar.
(Note: This item appears beginning at the 00:05:14 mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)
Item 3. Draft Minutes of the Commission’s May 14, 2021, 2021 regular meeting.
Item 4. Proposed Streamlined Stipulation, Decision and Order In the Matter of Matt Haney, Haney for Supervisor 2018, and Stacy Owens (SFEC Complaint No. 1718-088).
Item 5. Proposed Streamlined Stipulation, Decision and Order In the Matter of Rafael Mandelman, Rafael Mandelman for Supervisor 2018, and Stacy Owens (SFEC Complaint No. 1718-139).
Item 6. Proposed Streamlined Stipulation, Decision and Order In the Matter of Ahsha Safai for Supervisor 2020, Ahsha Safai, and Joe Jaber (SFEC Complaint No. 2021-008).
Item 7. Proposed Stipulation, Decision and Order In the Matter of Amy Lee and Mark Luellen (SFEC Complaint No. 2021-014).
Chair Ambrose thanked Director Pelham for sending a letter to the Mayor. She proposed that the Minutes reflect that not she but Commissioner Bell had made the motion to send the letter on the Commission’s behalf.
Commissioner Bush stated that the Minutes should identify authorship. Director Pelham stated that generally Senior Policy and Legislative Counsel Pat Ford prepares the Minutes.
No discussion was held for the consent items.
No public comment was received.
Chair Ambrose noted that the stipulations reflected implementation of the Streamlined Program.
Motion 210611-01 (Chiu/Lee): Moved, seconded, and passed (5-0) to approve the five items on the consent calendar.
NON-CONSENT CALENDAR ITEMS
Item 8. Discussion and possible action on Ethics Commission Annual Report draft for the Fiscal Year ending June 30, 2021.
(Note: This item appears beginning at the 00:14:31 mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)
Chair Ambrose thanked Director Pelham and Deputy Director Gayathri Thaikkendiyil for the draft annual report. She noted that the Charter requires the director to prepare an annual report. She encouraged Commissioners to convey their ideas about how to present the Commission’s work.
Director Pelham presented the item. She noted that the final draft would provide updated figures. She encouraged Commissioners to provide feedback. She thanked staff for their efforts over the past fiscal year.
Chair Ambrose encouraged staff to expand on the forward-looking portion of the annual report if possible.
Bush stated that Director Pelham’s recent letter to the Mayor might be included in the report. He stated that Director Pelham’s remarks to the Board might be included to highlight timelines for Commission operational plans. He identified several statistics he wanted to see included in the report, such as the number of registered lobbyists and permit consultants.
Chiu suggested organizing the report in relation to the three operational priorities identified on page 2, and stated that the report might further emphasize the success of the public financing program. She stated that although staff have been working remotely for more than a year the Commission has increased the number of individuals it has served.
Bell stated that the report is very comprehensive and requested that it include graphics to provide visual depictions for the readership.
Chiu acknowledged the budget decision reflected in this month’s materials and wondered if the report could look forward to the programming that expanded staff might enable. Chair Ambrose stated that the Board was unlikely to approve the budget in time for staff to make those considerations in the report.
Bell stated that the report is an opportunity for branding.
Derek Kerr identified himself as a whistleblower. He stated he wished to thank staff for including analysis and disclosure about the Commission’s whistleblower protection efforts. He stated that the transparency helped to dispel the negative reputation the Commission has regarding its whistleblower protection jurisdiction and gave the public insight into the reasons the Commission had not substantiated any retaliation matters in the prior year. He stated that he hoped the Commission would increase its substantiation rate from 0 up to approximately 23 percent, which is the nationwide average reported in an industry benchmark report.
Item 9. Staff presentation on Ethics Commission annual budget as proposed by the Mayor’s Office for FY22 and FY23 and discussion and possible action by Commission.
(Note: This item appears beginning at the 00:38:32 mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)
Director Pelham presented the item. She described the outcomes of this year’s budget process and highlighted the expansions to staff that the Mayor’s budget reflects. She described the programs that the budget will enable, including heightened ethics training, expanded investigative and enforcement capacity, and improved performance tracking and reporting.
Director Pelham noted that Budget Chair Haney has directed departments to address in their budget discussions how they will address ethics issues including tone at the top.
Chiu expressed her pleasure with the outcome. She emphasized the importance of metrics for measuring the impact of the new Ethics@Work program. She asked about the probable hiring timeline. Director Pelham stated she hoped the Commission might fill the positions by the end of the calendar year.
Vice Chair Lee stated she looks forward to Ethis@Work and emphasized that the program should reach not only City officers and employees but the public. She noted that the staffing for this program should reflect the diversity of the City’s population and include cultural and linguistic skills. She identified her hope that the Commission expand its outreach to include less represented communities and media outlets and to build a broader stakeholder community.
Ambrose stated that those hired for the training program should also exhibit strong listening skills. She stated that because the City has 30,000 employees, and the program will hire only four trainers, it will be important to enlist officers across the City to expand the reach and impact of these efforts. She noted that Bush had sent her materials about another jurisdiction where each department has a designated ethics officer.
Lee clarified that her view of public outreach first entails listening. She stated that the federal government demonstrates that creating working groups is an effective process to broaden program impact.
Bush asked Director Pelham how many were on staff when she joined. She stated 19. Bush acknowledged that expanding to 33 staff reflects her successful management of the Commission. He stated that the Commission should create plans for how to measure the effectiveness of the training program. He stated that the budget should include a specific plan and timeline for implementing lobbyist audits. He asked whether Ethics could pay a bonus to those with language skills. Director Pelham stated that the City does provide for a salary premium for certain language skills. Bush stated he hoped that the premium could be applied to various skills, including technology skills. Bush requested that Staff improve its website layout and heighten its use of social media, including in non-English fora.
Chiu stated that a culture of compliance derives not from the Ethics Commission but from the departments, and emphasized that the training program might best result in people knowing from whom they should seek advice on ethics issues.
No public comment was received.
Chair Ambrose announced a break at 10:57am.
The meeting resumed at 11:13am.
Item 10. Discussion of Enforcement Division staff report.
(Note: This item appears beginning at the 01:40:05 mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)
Senior Investigator Jeff Zumwalt addressed the Commission about the recent settlement between the City and permit expediter Walter Wong. Zumwalt noted that Chart confidentiality requirements limit what he can say.
Zumwalt summarized local permit expediter laws.
Ambrose asked if the Wong settlement had been heard by the Board. Zumwalt said it was assigned to committee, but not yet hear. Pierce clarified it was the Government Audit and Oversight Committee.
Ambrose asked if the terms of the settlement were public, and Zumwalt confirmed they are public. Ambrose asked if there are bribery violations. Zumwalt said that bribery violations were not an element of the settlement.
Ambrose said that changing the tone at the top that created a poor culture around ethics in the City will be challenging, but is important. She supports the settlement agreement because it is robust enough to dissuade others from similar conduct.
Lee asked if there are communications with departments to make sure they understand permit consultant rules and to talk about whether certain individuals are properly registered and filing. Zumwalt said that John Kim, who administers the program, already interacts frequently with permit consultants. Staff is working toward increasing its engagement with departments, especially as part of the future Ethics at Work program, and permit consultant compliance will be an area of focus.
Bush suggested that permit consultant gifts be limited through future legislation. He asked if the settlement terms had been publicized by the Commission. Zumwalt said it had not, and Bush recommended that the Commission publicize the settlement. Bush asked why the Commission had not been involved in the settlement. Zumwalt said that the City Attorney’s office was addressing a wide array of violations beyond just the permit consultant violations, and the permit consultant violations were addressed as part of that larger effort. This obviated the need for a separate Ethics Commission investigation. Bush suggested that the Commission pursue enforcement of such matters in the future, in conjunction with the City Attorney if needed.
Chiu agreed with Bush’s comments that the Commission should have been a party to the settlement. She asked how the Commission will know in the future when permit consulting violations are occurring. Zumwalt said that enforcement has methods, but hesitated to disclose all of those methods in a public setting. He said that there are ways for investigators to uncover evidence of violations.
Ambrose said that the City is the party to the settlement agreement, not just the City Attorney. She said that the Executive Director was part of announcing the settlement, and staff were involved in the process. She said that investigations require control and coordination to be successful, so having one team take the lead is a good thing. It doesn’t exclude all involvement of the Commission for the City Attorney to lead the settlement negotiation. She suggested that the communication to the permit consultant community focus on compliance methods.
Bush asked if nonprofits that seek permits are sufficiently covered by existing disclosures. Ambrose clarified the issue by saying that those nonprofits are actually developers, not just consultants seeking permits for others. Bush asked if staff had looked into this issue. Pierce said that resources had not been devoted to this issue, but will consider it in the future.
Francisco Decosta said that David Anderson was responsible for the investigation. He said that the Ethics Commission should have been more involved in the investigations. He said that a new PUC General Manager will be appointed in violation of the Brown Act. He said more needs to be done about it.
Donald Staley said that nonprofits are a problem in development projects. He said he’s a whistleblower that gave the Commission information about the Henry Hotel in 2015. He said DBI and DPW is involved in a coverup with the Commission. Homeless people ad poor people are the victims and he is shocked.
Ambrose asked what organization the commenter was talking about, and Pierce clarified it was ECF, Episcopal Community Services.
Item 11. Discussion of Executive Director’s Report. An update of various programmatic and operational highlights of Ethics Commission staff activities since the Commission’s previous meeting. The written report is available on the Commission’s website and may cover a range of topics such as the Commission’s budget, outreach activities, campaign finance disclosure and public financing programs, audit program, lobbyist program, campaign consultant program, permit consultant program, major developer program, and future staff projects. Any of these subjects may potentially be part of the Director’s presentation or discussed by the Commission.
(Note: This item appears beginning at the 02:20:41 mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)
Director Pelham presented the item. She noted that some of the updates in her report the Commission discussed earlier regarding the budget. She highlighted the Commission’s efforts to implement the citywide Form 700 e-filing project.
She highlighted progress staff have made in improving lobbyist disclosures. Director Pelham stated that the lobbying audit program is now under active development, including under Linda Fong, the Commission’s new audit manager.
Director Pelham stated that the audit cycle has now closed. She explained her decision to administratively close two discretionary audits first initiated in May 2019. She stated that the Commission is now accepting applications for the auditor vacancy.
No public comment was received.
The Chair announced her intention to take the items out of order.
Item 14. Discussion and possible action regarding probable cause determinations for complaints alleging violations of the Whistleblower Protection Ordinance, Article IV of the San Francisco Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code. Possible Closed Session.
(Note: This item appears beginning at the 02:34:58 mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)
Chair Ambrose explained the process for entering closed session.
Francisco de Costa stated that the City relies on whistleblowers to provide information. He stated that members of the public provide information to the Controller’s Office, which provides that information to the City Attorney, which sits on the information. He stated that the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force is ineffective, and that the Ethics Commission does nothing. He stated that he would report this dysfunction to the Justice Department.
Motion 210611-02 (Chiu/Lee): Moved, seconded, and passed (5-0) to enter closed session.
The Commission entered closed session. The Commission returned from closed session at 1:47 p.m. Open Session resumed at 1:51 p.m.
Motion 210611-03 (Bell/Chiu): Moved, seconded, and passed (5-0) to Chiu to retain the confidentiality of the closed session discussions.
Chair Ambrose announced, pursuant to the Sunshine Ordinance, that the Commission voted not to ratify Staff’s first recommended no probable cause determination (4-1, Bell dissenting), and that the Commission voted to ratify Staff’s second recommended no probable cause determination (5-0).
Item 12. Discussion and possible action on items for future meetings.
The Commission did not take up Item 12.
Item 13. 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 04:21:32 minute mark in the video recording at SFGovTv.)
Francisco de Costa stated that San Franciscans are fed up with corruption and that quality of life issues are compromised by virtue of the City’s inability to resolve that corruption. He compared San Francisco to Rwanda.
Item 15. Adjournment.
The Commission adjourned at 2:00 p.m.