Government Ethics and Conflict of Interest Review

At its September 11, 2020 meeting, the Commission identified a review of the City’s conflict-of-interest rules as a policy priority. This project is essential in light of the ongoing investigations into alleged corrupt activity by numerous City officials and contractors. If true, the allegations against these individuals demonstrate an alarming level of unethical conduct in and around City government and its decision-making processes. This project seeks to learn from the findings of the various investigations and identify improvements to ethics laws and programs to prevent future instances of corruption.

Staff is undertaking this project in multiple phases.

Phase 1: Behested Payments

The first phase focused on behested payments, which are payments made by someone at the request of a public official or employee, usually to a nonprofit organization. Staff held two interested persons meetings at the onset of this project to engage with stakeholders and learn their thoughts on the project’s first phase. Staff’s findings and recommendations for this phase of the project are set forth in the staff report presented at the Commission’s November 13th, 2020 meeting. Following the presentation of the report, the Commission voted unanimously to recommend legislation prohibiting City officials and employees from soliciting behested payments from persons with business before their respective departments. The Board of Supervisors considered the recommendations from this phase via File No. 201132, which unanimously passed second reading on December 14th, 2021 and went into effect on January 23rd, 2022.

The Board of Supervisors placed an ordinance regarding behested payments on the June 2022 ballot, which passed with 69% of the vote. This measure did two things when passed: 1) protected behested payment rules from legislative amendment undertaken solely by the Board of Supervisors by requiring a majority vote by the Ethics Commission and a two-thirds vote by the Board of Supervisors for future legislative changes, and 2) expanded the prohibition on the solicitation of behested payments to City contractors seeking approval from the Board of Supervisors. A digest from the Ballot Simplification Committee has been released that summarizes the proposed measure.

Phase 2: Gifts

The second phase of the project focuses on gift rules. State and local law restricts gifts made to City officials and employees. The ongoing corruption investigations have brought to light potential issues with these gift laws. Staff held two interested persons meetings at the onset of this phase of the project to engage with stakeholders and learn their thoughts on the City’s gift laws and how they could be improved. Staff then conducted research into ethical issues involved with gifts and drafted two reports containing findings and recommendations, which were presented to the Commission at public meetings.

Part A: Gifts to Individuals

Findings and recommendations for the first part of Phase 2 were presented in a staff report focused on gifts to individuals. The report was presented at the Commission’s August 13th, 2021 meeting. Following the presentation of the report, the Commission voted unanimously to adopt the recommendations contained within the report. The legislative recommendations from this report were combined with those found Phase 2-B and Phase 3. This combined set of reforms was first presented to the Commission as a potential ballot measure and regulation amendments during the Commission’s December 10th, 2021 meeting. The Commission is currently engaged in a required meet and confer process with City employee bargaining units concerning the proposed ballot measure and regulation amendments. The Commission looks forward to completing this process and presenting a package of ethics reforms to San Francisco voters.

Part B: Gifts to Departments

Findings and recommendations for the second part of Phase 2 were presented in a staff report focused on gifts to departments. The report was presented at the Commission’s October 8th, 2021 meeting. Following the presentation of the report, the Commission voted unanimously to adopt the recommendations contained within the report. The legislative recommendations from this report were combined with those found Phase 2-A and Phase 3. This combined set of reforms was first presented to the Commission as a potential ballot measure and regulation amendments during the Commission’s December 10th, 2021 meeting. The Commission is currently engaged in a required meet and confer process with City employee bargaining units concerning the proposed ballot measure and regulation amendments. The Commission looks forward to completing this process and presenting a package of ethics reforms to San Francisco voters.

Phase 3: Strengthening Essential Ethics Provisions

This third phase of the project analyzes important foundational provisions in the City’s ethics laws that are key to the overall effectiveness of the law. Staff held two interested persons meetings as part of this phase to engage with stakeholders and learn their thoughts on the topics covered in this phase, including: the City’s bribery rule, the disclosure of personal, professional, and business relationships by City officials, and other areas of the Code needing improvement. Findings and recommendations for this third phase were presented in a staff report discussed at the Commission’s December 10th, 2021 meeting. This combined set of reforms was first presented to the Commission as a potential ballot measure and regulation amendments during the Commission’s December 10th, 2021 meeting. The Commission is currently engaged in a required meet and confer process with City employee bargaining units concerning the proposed ballot measure and regulation amendments. The Commission looks forward to completing this process and presenting a package of ethics reforms to San Francisco voters.

For updates on this policy project, check Commission meeting agendas or subscribe to receive automatic updates whenever a new agenda is published via the Interested Persons List. All policy and legislative items the Ethics Commission considers are posted to an agenda prior to the public meeting in which they are discussed and acted upon.

Please contact Acting Senior Policy Analyst Michael Canning at Michael.A.Canning@sfgov.org for more information about this policy project.

Links Related to this Policy Project

Interested Persons Meeting Announcements to Discuss:
Staff Reports & Resources:
Key Commission Meetings:
  • September 11th, 2020: Discussion and possible action on monthly Staff Policy Report, including Ethics Commission proposed policy prioritization plan for FY21. (Agenda | Minutes | Summary)
  • November 13th, 2020: Presentation of report on behested payments. (Agenda | Meeting Minutes | Summary)
  • August 13th, 2021: Presentation of report on gifts to individuals. (Agenda | Meeting Minutes | Summary)
  • October 8th, 2021: Presentation of report on gifts to departments. (Agenda | Meeting Minutes | Summary)
  • November 12th, 2021: Presentation and discussion of draft ordinance and regulation amendments to enact recommendations contained in report on gifts to individuals, and report on gifts to departments. (Agenda | Meeting Minutes | Summary)
  • December 10th, 2021: Discussion and possible action on a possible ballot measure prohibiting certain City officials from soliciting behested payments from interested parties and another possible ballot measure based of the recommendations from Phase 2 and Phase 3 of this project. (Agenda | Meeting Minutes | Summary)
  • January 14th, 2022: Discussion and possible action on proposal regarding a possible June 2022 ballot measure and regulation amendments to enact recommendations contained in “Report on Gift Laws Part A: Gifts to Individuals,” dated August 2, 2021, “Report on Gift Laws Part B: Gifts to City Departments,” dated September 29, 2021, and “Report on Strengthening Basic Ethics Provisions,” dated December 6, 2021. (Agenda | Meeting Minutes | Summary)
  • January 21st, 2022: Continued discussion and possible action on proposal regarding a possible June 2022 ballot measure and regulation amendments to enact recommendations contained in “Report on Gift Laws Part A: Gifts to Individuals,” dated August 2, 2021, “Report on Gift Laws Part B: Gifts to City Departments,” dated September 29, 2021, and “Report on Strengthening Basic Ethics Provisions,” dated December 6, 2021. (Agenda | Meeting Minutes | Summary)
  • February 11th, 2022: Discussion and possible action on proposal regarding a possible June 2022 ballot measure and regulation amendments to enact recommendations contained in “Report on Gift Laws Part A: Gifts to Individuals,” dated August 2, 2021, “Report on Gift Laws Part B: Gifts to City Departments,” dated September 29, 2021, and “Report on Strengthening Basic Ethics Provisions,” dated December 6, 2021. (Agenda | Meeting Minutes | Summary)
  • February 25th, 2022: Public hearing, discussion, and possible action on proposed amendments to strengthen City’s gift and ethics laws through a) a potential ballot measure for the June 7, 2022 election, and b) amended Commission regulations. (Agenda | Meeting Minutes | Summary)
  • March 18th, 2022: Presentation, discussion, and possible action on proposed amendments to strengthen City’s gift and ethics laws under consideration as 1) potential Ethics Commission ballot measure and as 2) amended Ethics Commission regulations. (Agenda | Meeting Minutes | Summary)
  • April 8th, 2022: Closed session meeting with City labor negotiators regarding the status of the proposed amendments to strengthen City’s gift and ethics laws under consideration as 1) potential Ethics Commission ballot measure and as 2) amended Ethics Commission regulations. (Agenda | Meeting Minutes | Summary)
  • May 13th, 2022: Closed session meeting with City labor negotiators regarding the status of the proposed amendments to strengthen City’s gift and ethics laws under consideration as 1) potential Ethics Commission ballot measure and as 2) amended Ethics Commission regulations. Presentation and discussion on proposed amendments to strengthen City’s gift and ethics laws. (Agenda | Meeting Minutes | Summary)
  • June 10th, 2022: Closed session meeting with City labor negotiators regarding the status of the proposed amendments to strengthen City’s gift and ethics laws under consideration as 1) potential Ethics Commission ballot measure and as 2) amended Ethics Commission regulations. (Agenda | Meeting Minutes | Summary)
Legislation:
  • File No. 201132: Ordinance expanding the definition of interested party to include City contractors, persons seeking to influence City officers and employees, registered contact lobbyists, permit consultants, and to prohibit elected officials, department heads, commissioners, and designated employees from soliciting behested payments from interested parties. – Status: Passed by the Board of Supervisors and in effect as of January 23rd, 2022.
  • Proposition E: Ordinance regarding behested payments that appeared on the June 7, 2022 ballot. Status: Approved by voters on June 7, 2022.

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