Draft Minutes of the Regular Meeting of
The San Francisco Ethics Commission
Friday, February 11, 2022
Remote Meeting Held Online via WebEx and aired live on SFGovTV
(Approved __, 2022)
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.
(Note: A complete video recording of this meeting is available at SFGovTv.)
COMMISSION MEMBERS PRESENT: With Chair Yvonne Lee and Commissioners Michael Romano, Larry Bush, Daina Chiu, and Theis Finlev attending, a quorum was present.
STAFF PRESENTING: LeeAnn Pelham, Executive Director; Michael Canning, Policy Analyst; Ronald Contreraz, Online Meeting Moderator.
REPRESENTATIVES OF THE OFFICE OF THE CITY ATTORNEY PRESENT: Andrew Shen, Deputy City Attorney.
- Draft Minutes of the Commission’s January 14, 2021 regular meeting
- Draft Minutes of the Commission’s January 21, 2021 special meeting
- Resolution on Continuation of Remote Commission Meetings
- Cover Memo regarding Election of Commission Officers
- Staff report regarding proposed Commission Budget
- Staff memo regarding proposal regarding a possible June 2022 ballot measure
- Executive Director’s Report
Item 1. Call to order and roll call.
Acting Chair Yvonne Lee convened the meeting at 9:30 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.
Chair Lee welcomed newest member, Michael Romano. Commissioner Romano introduced himself, provided his background, and expressed his gratitude to be a part of the Commission.
Chair Lee announced the meeting will be adjourned in memory and honor of the late Commissioner Bob Planthold, whose memorial service will be held later today. Chair Lee took some time to describe some of Mr. Planthold’s work. Director Pelham has reached out to his family to extend the Commission’s deep condolences.
Item 2. Public comment on matters appearing or not appearing on the agenda.
Judith Reese stated she read the SF Standard news article and is bringing the Commission’s attention to Director Katie Sofis, Director at OEWD who failed to publicly disclose work with Amazon. She hopes the Commission will investigate this matter, which she believes is a clear conflict of interest.
A caller identifying as a Disability Activist and Journalist/Youtuber stated he regularly posts videos and brings up issues of ethical misconduct. He said nothing is done about any issues he brings to the Commission. He was in a meeting with Daryl Honda in July 2020 and discussed ethical issues regarding deforestation. He said he raised a Daryl Honda conflict of interest and nothing was done. He brought up another issue with the Commission regarding the Sunshine Ordinance Taskforce and errors with meeting minutes. The Commission should make sure that the departments are following the law.
Chair Lee asked the caller to leave contact information so staff can follow up with him.
Commissioner Finlev asked a question regarding the minutes. If minutes were inaccurate, what’s the process for correcting them? Chair Lee asked to finish public comments before that issue is answered.
Deputy City Attorney Shen explained that any changes that need to be made to the minutes can be done if a commissioner suggests edits when the agenda item to approve the minutes is called. Also if members of the public have edits or suggestions, that would be the time. Shen explained that Commissioners can make any suggestions for edits at the time the minutes are called for vote.
Commissioner Bush stated that in the past, there have been votes not to accept the draft minutes and have them come back with edits on them.
CONSENT CALENDAR ITEMS
Item 3. Draft Minutes of the Commission’s January 14, 2022 regular meeting.
Pelham noted a minor correction to the January 14, 2022 minutes. She noted that Item 6 should be corrected to read Friday March 4th.
Chair Lee called for a motion to adopt Jan 14 minutes as corrected. Commissioner Chiu moved; seconded by Commissioner Finlev.
An unidentified caller asked the Commission to clarify what this item is about. The caller also stated that they had accessibility issues regarding accessing the meeting via Webex. The caller wants to know what is being action is being taken on the consent calendar. They have been to a lot of meetings and need clarity for what consent calendar means.
Chair Lee explained that anyone can comment on the draft minutes in the consent calendar and sked Shen if he wants to add anything. Shen decline to add anything on this matter.
Public Comment Closed
Motion to approve: Commissioner Bush made motion; seconded Commissioner Chiu.
No discussion. No opposition. The motion carried unanimously.
Motion 220211-01 (Bush/Chiu): Moved, seconded, and passed (5-0) to approve the January 14, 2022 regular meeting minutes as drafted.
Item 4. Draft Minutes of the Commission’s January 21, 2022 special meeting.
Commissioner Bush asked if this is where we raise the issue of when future meetings take place (remote, time, etc.). Commissioner Bush asked if this is where we ask for a bylaw change. Chair Lee explained this is item to approve minutes of January 21, 2022 meeting. Shen concurred, explained that we can bring up on a future agenda but cannot consider on this item. Commissioner Bush clarified that he thought they were on Agenda Item 5.
No public comment.
Motion 220211-02: Passed (5-0) to approve the January 21, 2022 special meeting minutes as drafted.
Item 5. Resolution on Continuation of Remote Commission Meetings.
Chair Lee moved and Commissioner Bush seconded the motion to approve the resolution.
Commissioner Bush thanked callers for participating in Commission meetings, recognized the challenges, and welcomed more participation.
An anonymous caller wanted to apologize for keeping everyone waiting on the previous item when they did respond when called on to comment. The caller thanked an unknown Commissioner for being interested in hearing from the public. The caller stated that for everything they have talked about during the meeting, they have also reached out through email, or also published videos online. The caller expressed appreciation for being heard on these issues.
Chair Lee clarified that it was Commissioner Bush who had made the earlier comments about wanting to hear from the public.
Commissioner Bush reiterated that the Commission is very interested in public participation at these meetings and outside of these meetings.
Public Comment Closed
Motion 220211-03 (Lee/Bush): Moved, seconded, and passed (5-0) to approve the resolution on the continuation of remote meetings.
NON-CONSENT CALENDAR ITEMS
Item 6. Election of Commission Officers for 2022 per Ethics Commission Bylaws, Article IV, Section 1.
Acting Chair Lee called on Pelham to walk the Commission through this item.
Pelham noted that a memo for the election process was provided to the Commission ahead of the meeting to guide them. The memo outlined the way the Commission by practice and history nominates and elects officers. Pelham wanted to highlight the process for Commissioners and the public. Pelham explained this morning’s process for electing a new Chair. Pelham clarified that if a nominee were to receive 3 or more votes, they would be elected chair, otherwise, they would proceed until someone received 3 or more votes. Once a Chair is elected, a vice-chair can then be nominated and then follow the same process. Pelham restated that the full process is outlined in the memo.
Acting Chair Lee opened up the floor for nominations.
Commissioner Bush nominated Acting Chair Lee.
No public Comment.
Acting Chair Lee thanked the Commission and accepted the nomination with gratitude. Acting Chair Lee acknowledged previous Chairs’ efforts and noted how she’s observed and learned from them. She promised to follow their steps in moving the Commission forward.
Pelham called roll. Chair Lee was elected by a unanimous vote. Chair Lee’s term will begin March 1st.
Motion 220211-04 (Bush/Lee): The Commission voted unanimously (5-0) to elect Yvonne Lee Chair of the Commission.
Chair Lee opened up nomination for Vice Chair.
Chair Lee nominated Commissioner Bush as Vice Chair. Commissioner Bush accepted the nomination.
No public Comment.
Pelham called roll. Chair Bush was elected as Vice Chair by a unanimous vote. Will begin March 1st.
Chair Lee nominate Larry Bush to serve as Vice Chair. Commissioner Bush accepted the nomination.
Motion 220211-05 (Lee/Bush): The Commission voted unanimously (5-0) to elect Larry Bush Vice Chair of the Commission.
Item 7. Public comment, discussion, and possible action regarding Ethics Commission budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2023 that begins July 1, 2022.
Commissioner Romano asked a question about term limits for the positions. Pelham explained that the Bylaws provide they’re a one-year term. Officers can be reelected to a second term for the same office. Two terms can be concurrent.
Pelham noted Deputy Director Thaikkendiyil is also present.
This is the second of two meetings to provide detail about proposal planned to be submitted by February 22 deadline. Looking forward to hearing feedback from Commission and public regarding proposals.
Pelham provided an overview of the current funding and staffing. Pelham described the organizational structure of the Ethics Commission based on the current budget. Historically have been a very lean organization in terms of overhead, with no dedicated administrative or finance staff or division. Pelham described the Mayor’s budget instructions to City departments. Given the surplus and size of the surplus, the Mayor has not asked departments to make cuts, but has asked them to align programs according to priorities she has identified. The fiscal year starts July 1st, but where there is new staffing, that doesn’t take effect until October 1st. Pelham went over the duties and responsibilities of the Ethics Commission under the City Charter. She also described our ongoing departmental priorities, including making sure that we have strong laws that are well implemented with timely and effective oversight and accountability. There is a focus on enabling the Commission’s public disclosure functions. The Ethics Commission website is a primary tool for conveying information on events taking place at the Commission, so the goal is to ensure that the website serves its purpose. Electronic filing for the Form 700 was launched last month, with the goal of making filing as easy as possible and to make it as transparent as possible. Priorities include open data, the website, a complaint system, and campaign finance dashboard.
There is a need to reclassify and retain an Information Systems Engineer position. The Commission has a number of technology projects and will need this level of expertise to do the work.
In order to strengthen direct support for filing compliance and guidance across all program areas, a dedicated client support services role needs to be created.
Positions have also been identified to expand the community engagement and outreach pieces of the Commission’s work.
The main staffing areas presented in the budget include reclassify existing policy positions to create a Senior Policy and Legislative Affairs Manager Position, reclassify the current junior level investigator position to a Senior Investigator and Legal Analyst position, adding one new Civic Community Engagement Specialist in the Policy Division, and adding a Policy Implementation Specialist in the Engagement and Compliance Division. There is also a need for a new audit position, so the plan is to create a new Senior Auditor position.
Funding to procure essential software tools and other technology is needed to help the Commission accomplish its goals as well as other services provided by other departments.
The fines collections officer position will be repurposed to a Finance and Operations Coordinator to assist Director Pelham and Deputy Director Thaikkendiyil. The fines collection functions will be incorporated into SARP in the Enforcement Division.
Pelham asked if the Commission would like to seek an Executive Secretary position to assist with the functions of the Commission.
Commissioner Chiu noted reference to 3-year limited positions. She asked when those positions end and will the new proposed positions be able to provide coverage for the work when the current 3-year positions expire.
Pelham stated that the 3-year positions are project based. They enable the hiring of positions on shorter time frames. The City has a practice of doing this. Some of these positions will be converted to Civil Service roles at the end of their term, so there will be no break in the progress of the work.
Thaikkendiyil noted that the 3-year terms will end by June 30th 2025.
Commissioner Chiu stated that as the Commission thinks about the budget and the pending ordinance that will create new filing obligations, there’s an opportunity for the Commission to review the work it does. Does this budget provide sufficient staffing to meet the work that the Commission has ongoing? Is the Commission preparing and budgeting for the work of the Commission as it is being conducted today or for what it will be in the upcoming fiscal year? Do we need to add more positions as the work of the Commission grows and evolves?
Pelham responded that the budget is intended to meet the needs of both, as the work being done now is growing. The type and nature of staffing being proposed is important for the Commission to do the work being prosed. Pelham notes that the area we haven’t focused on in the past is the Outreach and engagement work and that a lot of other departments have units dedicated to this work. The Commission recognizes the importance and need for this work at this time. There is also a need to focus on the Commission’s racial equity work so that it is part of the fabric of how we operate.
Commissioner Chiu expressed that she wants us to make as big of an ask as is desirable to optimize the work we do, especially given the budget surplus at this time in order to allow us to be successful going forward.
Commissioner Romano stated he wants to clarify that this budget request will cover all of our requirements 3 to 5 years out. He wanted to clarify if Pelham wants the Commission to decide on whether they need an Executive Secretary position. Pelham affirmed this request for a decision. Pelham’s recommendation is that they do not need a separate Executive Secretary position, but instead should merge it into the role the Director has identified.
Commissioner Chiu stated here view is different. She believes there is work to be done with facilitating meetings, etc. There is also a lot of value to having a single point of contact for the public that is an actual person that is the Secretary of the Commission, so that the public can reach out to and that can reach out to people who have not been engaged. The person can be a liaison between the Commission and the public. She believes this role is best served by a Commission Secretary.
Commissioner Bush stated he associated himself with Commissioner Chiu’s comments. He stated that they have a public facing obligation as a Commission, but that the public is down the list when it comes to priorities. Commissioner Bush believes the Commission Secretary should be hired by the Commissioners and reports to the Commissioners. He added that the public is better served by a Commission Secretary who reports to the Commission, not the Director. A Commission Secretary could also hold tutorial and listening sessions for groups who are underserved due to language barriers or economic situations. This role could also serve outreach functions that can benefit the public and Commissioner Bush would like to see more emphasis on that.
Commissioner Finlev states that the Commission already has public facing staff who help with outreach and Form 700 filing, etc. He wants to clarify that Commissioners Chiu and Bush are seeking someone to support the Commissioners. He proposed that the position could be the same but serve as a support to Director Pelham as needed.
Chair Lee stated that she agrees with Commissioners that the Commission should have its own Secretary and that it is important to understand how would the Commission Secretary fit into the overall administrative structure? Does the City allow an independent commission to oversee one salaried person? There is a need to be clear on the responsibilities of the Commission and carefully weigh before deciding on how to proceed with the position. How do other departments do it? It is important for the collaboration and team dynamics/working relationship with the Commission. Requests Director Pelham to share what the current City HR requirements are and how that would affect decisions regarding this position. Chair Lee understands the Commission has the need but also wants to clarify the administrative impact and implications.
Pelham responds that research shows clearly that some Secretaries are hired and supervised by Commissioners, but that there are offices that have Secretaries report to the Director. She stated it would be helpful to understand what duties the Commission would find helpful to fulfill.
Commissioner Romano stated he agrees there should be a clear person for public engagement and does not see that the Secretary fills this role. He believes everyone who works for the Commission should report to the Director.
Commissioner Bush stated he believes the Commission Secretary should be hired by and report to Commission. It would provide a level of public confidence, not having their work reviewed by anyone else but the Commissioners. He wants an independent Commission Secretary. He also points out that we are falling far behind in our outreach with non-English speaking members of the public. Commissioner Bush wants to bridge the gap with those the Commission currently has no relationship with.
Chair Lee recalls 3 Commissions where the Commission directly hired and supervised an Executive Secretary with a very long and complicated hiring process and noted the challenge that the person would be reporting to a changing Commission leadership annually. Chair Lee expressed reservations regarding Commissioner Bush’s suggestion. She stated that everyone agrees about the need for an Executive Secretary, but that the Commission needs to be very careful in assessing how the person will fit into the dynamics of the Commission. Suggested that there should be an ongoing exploration of best practices.
Commissioner Bush stated that the process should not be any different from hiring the Executive Director. He stated that the Commission did not follow the strict requirements provided by DHR during the hiring of Director Pelham. He believes the Commission was able to fulfill that duty, and so the Executive Secretary role shouldn’t be any different.
Chair Lee expressed that the roles are different and continued to express reservations regarding Commissioner Bush’s suggestion, especially regarding who the Secretary would report to.
Commissioner Chiu associated herself with Commissioner Bush’s comments and added that this role can also serve as institutional memory of the Commission.
Chair Lee asked Director Pelham about the timeframe for the Commission’s decision.
Pelham noted 11 days to submit the FY23 budget. She reiterated that the needs articulated by Commissioner Bush and Commissioner Chiu are not encompassed in the city’s Executive Secretary positions. She noted the Commission has the option to consider the work the new engagement position plays and if not satisfactory in a year, the Commission could reconsider and see how the Executive Secretary role can be built to fulfill this role.
Chair Lee asked if the Commission should approve the budget as proposed or approve with the inclusion of the Commission Secretary position.
Commissioner Bush described the difficulty in accessing information by the public. He said the website is not user friendly and that the budget should be sufficient to make the data more user friendly so that we are more transparent and accountable. He wants more benchmarks and steps to tell the public the specific plan.
Pelham notes that this is an overview of the budget. The information submitted to the Mayor’s office is more detailed. She notes that we will put in the budget the best information to ensure we get it approved.
Chair Lee clarified that there are 2 proposals: one is to approve the budget as presented. The second option is to approve a budget that will include a new position of Commission Executive Secretary and leave specific details, other than the general administrative responsibilities until we have a position description.
Commissioner Finlev’s inclination is to approve budget as proposed by the Staff. He stated he believes a lot of the goals discussed can be accomplished by realigning the positions as Director Pelham described and he expressed concern about only the limited time before the budget is due to time to rush into including a new position.
Chair Lee suggested we call Engagement role the Commission Secretary. Commissioner Chui stated that the Secretary role is required by Charter. Commissioner Bush add that the Charter also requires that position be hired by Commission.
Commissioner Romano asks for clarification regarding the Commission Secretary. Pelham referenced the Charter authority and noted that the Commission has not used a Commission Secretary position in the past.
Chair Lee asks if we need to return before the 11 days to approve the budget?
Pelham responded that if the Commission wants to include a Commission Secretary position, they can make the motion today and direct Staff to include the position in the budget submitted. The clarity will need to be how the role will be structured and who the secretary will report to.
An anonymous caller believes 3 minutes should begin when caller is speaking and stated agreement with Commissioner Bush that there is a need for someone who can interface with the public. Nobody in the public knows what Commission does. The caller stated they were unhappy with Director Pelham’s position regarding the role of the Executive Secretary. Described Director Pelham’s position, especially regarding the change in reporting of the Commissioner Secretary as “disgusting.” Consider creating this position to reduce some of the harm and failure of the office in its outreach efforts.
Commissioner Bush made a motion to propose add one more position for the Commission Secretary.
Commissioner Finlev clarified that staff has said that an Executive Secretary position will not be doing the outreach work Commissioner Bush is seeking to have done.
Commissioner Bush’s states that his experience is that Secretaries do such work, such as issuing press releases following meetings, engaging the public on social media, and bringing to the Commission’ attention various issues including items before the Board of Supervisors.
Commissioner Chiu added that the hiring body is the Commission and not the Director, so the job description will be developed to meet the goals and objectives of the Commission. The Commissioners can work with staff to craft the role to align with the needs of the Commission. She seconded Commissioner Bush’s motion.
Pelham stated that based on Commissioner Bush’s proposal, a job description will need to be crafted that provides for the functions it wishes to have fulfilled.
Commissioner Bush recommended that we enlist the Director to assist in outreach to get candidates for the position. Commissioner Chiu added that the position would not go into effect until July 1st, so there would be time to develop the descriptions required for the role.
Commissioner Romano asked Shen to provide clarify whether Commission is in compliance with the Charter. Shen read the Charter language. Shen also explained that there has never been a standalone Secretary due to budget and staffing issues. The Director, through the assistance of staff, has historically fulfilled the role.
Chair Lee proposed that Commission can request a budget based on the current proposal and increasing needs to carry out the Commission’s mandate, including a Commission Secretary position that would need to include additional details regarding the role.
Commissioner Finlev asked about the position classification and whether it may need a different classification if the role requires more responsibilities. Thaikkendiyil added that there is a need to finalize the specifications required because it will have implications for the budget amount requested.
Chair Lee suggested including a general job description at this point, and if the position is funded, then legal requirements of the hiring process can be addressed. She stated that she does not expect the position to be on the same level of compensation as the Director position.
Pelham stated that it would be most helpful to clarify the duties of the role the Commission is looking to fulfill to allow the budget to reflect the correct budget request.
Chair Lee clarified that she thinks the role should report to the Director who is the person who oversees the entire operations of the Commission. Everyone in the Commission is accountable to the Commissioners, but the Commissioners don’t supervise daily activities. Chair Lee wants to make the clarification that even if the Commission hires this person, the Director will be responsible for the role.
Commissioner Romano asked for clarification about the legal basis for the Director and Secretary roles. Pelham responded that the Charter provision for the position of the Executive Director is Section 15.101; and the one for the Executive Secretary position is Section 4.102.
Chair Lee stated that the motion is to approve budget as presented with the change to include Commission Secretary position.
Commissioner Finlev stated that we will subsequently determine the job description and responsibilities of the position and that we should also make the highest ask possible. Thaikkendiyil noted that the budget request needs to describe in general terms what the position will do and specify a classification, adding that the process for adopting a job description is separate.
Motion 220211-06 (Bush/Chiu): Moved, seconded, and passed (5-0) to approve the budget as presented with the additional inclusion of a Commission Secretary position.
Commissioners then took a brief break.
Meeting resumed at 12:41pm.
Item 8. 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.
Policy Analyst Canning gave a presentation regarding the new proposals to the gift laws. He noted the past review of the City’s conflict of interest rules. The project sought to identify improvements to ethics laws and to prevent future instances of public corruption. The first report was presented to the Commission in November 2020. Phase 2 of the project was presented in August 2021, and the second part of Phase 2 was presented in October 2021. The third phase focused on strengthening certain aspects of the code and was presented to the Commission in December 2021. Recommendations from Phase 2 and Phase 3 are now before Commission today.
Canning provided a high-level review of recommendations from Phase 2 and Phase 3.
Commissioner Bush asked if this includes staff or just officers. Canning clarified that it does includes both officers and employees. The term “official” covers both. Also clarified that an expanded prohibition to restrict gifts to non-city officials is not covered here.
Canning informed the Commission that the meet and confer process is still ongoing. Staff is still awaiting feedback from the Municipal Executives Association. The next meet and confer meeting is scheduled for February 16, 2022. Staff continues to engage with stakeholders, especially those in nonprofit organizations. Staff has had one-on-one meetings with the representatives from several organizations.
Canning presented substantive revisions made to ballot measure:
- Removed liability for department heads for failure to disclose gifts to departments.
- Created exemption from prohibition on City official engaging in activities subject to their department’s jurisdiction for non-compensated, volunteer activity with nonprofit organizations.
Canning presented substantive revisions made to draft regulations:
- Clarified regulation defining “knowingly attempted to influence the officer or employee in any legislative or administrative action.”
- Raised the proposed dollar value limit for the routine office courtesies exemption to $15.
- Exemption added to allow the gifting of personalized plaques or trophies.
- Exemption added for attendance at certain nonprofit fundraising events.
- Exemptions added for attendance at certain art exhibits, performances athletics events, sporting events.
- Added clarification that application for approval of a license, permit, or other entitlement for use shall not be deemed “doing business with the department” if the approval of such items is solely ministerial, secretarial, or clerical.
Canning presented an item for discussion regarding if liability of giving restricted source gifts. As proposed, liability will extend to giver of the prohibited gift. There are concerns that the proposal might expose non-City officials to administrative penalties. However, this wouldn’t be the first time City laws will regulate non-City officials.
Canning presented 3 options:
- Leave rule as drafted,
- Remove liability for gift givers, OR
- Narrow the proposed rule so that it only prohibits the giving of gifts by a restricted source but does not prohibit the giving of gifts by the affiliates of a restricted source.
Canning clarified that action by Commission is needed in order for measure to be placed on the June 4 ballot. The next deadline for placing items on the November ballot is August 5.
Commissioner Chui asked Canning to confirm that the revisions presented are the remaining open items and points of disagreement with MEA and that we’re waiting to hear back from them by February 16. Canning confirmed that this reflects the known issues with MEA and that staff are awaiting more information from MEA.
Commissioner Bush clarified that the Commission received letters this week (on Wednesday) to review the proposals for a racial equity review. Bush wanted to add these letters to part of outstanding issues. Canning noted that the letters were not part of the meet and confer process.
Commissioner Bush also asked about attendance at certain arts exhibits and performances, etc., especially regarding the number of staff. Canning clarified that it would be capped at one ticket per official. Commissioner Bush asked if staff had considered putting it into their job description what events they would be required to attend? Canning stated that the discussion is one that has occurred and is ongoing.
Commissioner Finlev spoke regarding the Statements of Incompatible Activities and that we still don’t want folks lobbying their own departments.
Commissioner Finlev expressed concerns regarding the proposal regarding the restricted source rule. One concern he noted is about creating potential criminal liability for people who would otherwise not be familiar with the law, particularly nonprofit organizations. He noted that extending the restricted source provision may create a lot of fear. Finlev doesn’t see the value added here, given the existing bribery laws. He reiterated his hope that the Commission can have an interested persons meeting so that the Commissioners can hear directly from those impacted.
Commissioner Romano asked for clarity on what is covered and what is not by state and federal bribery laws and how that differs from the proposal. Canning clarified that the restricted source rule prohibits giving of gifts to City officials by restricted sources (which has a specific definition).
Commissioner Romano also asked regarding sporting events, if it is a necessary function, then why can’t departments pay for them themselves? Canning explained that a lot of the organizations have expressed desire to have officials to attend events. Canning clarified that there is no prohibition for City Officials to use City resources to attend these events as it relates to their job functions and that Departments could pay for such attendance.
Charles Head (President of Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods) stated he believes MEA and department heads are foot-dragging on this issue. He asked the Commission to call them out for their lack of respect to the Ethics Commission and the voters of San Francisco.
Ralph Remington (Director the Arts Commission), stated that the industry standard regarding tickets is staff plus one. He described this work as forensic activity that is a necessary part of the job to assess arts and cultural events. Without it, City staff would move in ignorance as it seeks to fund local artists. He asked the Commission to look at best practices. He also cited an equity question. The ballets and operas will be fine, but the smaller arts group will suffer if this issue is not decided properly to match the best practices.
Debbie Lerman (SF Human Services Network) stated she has significant concerns not fully addressed regarding nonprofit events, saying it is vague as to what is a necessary part of the one’s job. The provisions should clarify that those duties include support for the organizations hosting them. The definition of ‘restricted source’ should exclude non-city members.
Public comment closed.
Chair Lee presented options before the Commission, stating it can either take action by voting on this matter given that the Staff has met through meet and confer process numerous times, or in order to ensure the decision may withstand any potential legal challenge, can delay action to after the meet and confer meeting on February 16th and schedule a special meeting before the deadline on March 4th to take action on this ballot proposal.
Chair Lee hoped the staff can reach back to the callers to explain what the latest proposals are.
Chair Lee called on Shen to review the legal consequences of any action taken by Commission.
Shen stated the City Attorney’s Office cannot approve the proposed ballot measure at this time because there is an ongoing meet and confer process.
Chair Lee expressed concerns regarding organizations continuing to drag things out and asked whether the Commission can give an ultimatum on timeline.
Commissioner Bush spoke regarding the comments made by person from the Arts Commission and asked if there is documentation regarding feedback and assessment of officials after attending events? Canning responded that he doesn’t believe those are published but if they are public records, then they would be subject to disclosure under the Sunshine Ordinance.
Commissioner Bush asked that in the event that there will be no meeting of the minds, is there an option for declaring an impasse or is that up to DHR? Commissioner Bush believes the Commission has the final say on whether to move forward on this issue.
Shen suggested that when next meeting is scheduled, the Commission should include an item for DHR to provide an update on the status of the meet and confer process. A closed session may be required for this update.
Chair Lee suggested another meeting before the March meeting.
Commissioner Romano stated he will not vote to approve ticket exception rule as written.
Commissioner Finlev stated he would prefer to hear from the public regarding this issue. He stated he believes it is more important to get it right and hear the public’s concerns so that it can withstand legal and public scrutiny. If this decision is rushed, there is a potential that the Commission will be sued and there will be an injunction and the new rules will go nowhere.
Chair Lee stated that this issue has been before the Commission for months, so even though there is a concern regarding getting it right, it is important to make progress and come to a decision soon. Chair Lee suggested that the Commission hold 2 interested persons meetings to give Commission time to meet March 4 deadline.
Commissioner Bush suggested instead that the Commission issue a press release that outlines all of what has been done to date to inform the public and to also gain active participation of the public.
Commissioner Chiu stated that the sense of urgency is not just because it’s been a long time but because San Franciscan’s have been waiting since June 2020 to ensure that loopholes in the laws are addressed.
Canning stated that the staff can call interested persons and inform them of the process and progress and suggested that interested persons meeting be narrowed to specific issues raised, for example, by nonprofits.
Commissioner Finlev asked if Commissioners may attend if meetings are taking no action. Shen answered that for a substantive policy discussion, all Commissioners cannot all be present at one meeting without risking a violation of the Brown Act as they would constitute a quorum. Separate meetings that include some commissioners attending could be publicly noticed.
Commissioner Chiu expressed the view that MEA’s slow response reveals that they may not be negotiating in good faith. She agrees that the Commission should not take action that would jeopardize the enforceability of any laws.
Commissioner Romano asked if the effective date could be amended to alleviate concerns expressed. He proposed that the Commission should have a fully noticed meeting to have a full discussion with members of the public and relevant experts.
Chair Lee reiterated the importance of the March 4 deadline. Commissioner Bush stated he would like this on the June ballot.
Commissioner Romano stated he is not comfortable with voting on the current proposal and believes it is unrealistic to expect the MEA to concede that it has concluded the meet and confer process.
Chair Lee noted a motion by Commission Bush, which was seconded by Commissioner Chiu, to send out press release outlining progress to date and urging public participation in a special Ethics Commission meeting on February 25th.
Motion 220211-07 (Bush/Chiu): Moved, seconded, and passed unanimously (5-0) to issue a press release on the progress made regarding the Government Ethics and Conflict of Interest Review project and to invite stakeholders to attend a Special Ethics Commission meeting on February 25, 2022.
Item 9. 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.
Pelham: Welcomed Commissioner Romano and announced that Pat Ford has been appointed the new Director of Enforcement. Pelham also welcomed Geraldo Moya to the staff. The Ethics@Work Program Manager position is now posted and continuing to accept applications.
Pelham noted City departments received a new proclamation by the Mayor requiring public policy bodies to return to onsite, in-person meetings, starting March 7. The Commission’s next regular meeting is March 11, so that will be held in person in City Hall.
Commissioner Bush asked the Director to provide a follow up in a future meeting on some metrics on different things like Ethics@Work – that tells the Commission the progress of the work for accountability purposes. Pelham noted that this is on track for quarterly Commissions updates.
Francisco Augusta stated they had been following the corruption for the past 15 years. Many commissioners have left the Ethics Commission. The public is fed-up with the beating around the bush and not reaching any decision. The corruption needs to be addressed.
Jonathan Fisher stated rushing to the June ballot with a bad law will not be good for the Commission and the public, and asked the Commission to postpone action.
No action was taken as the item was provided for informational purposes only.
Item 10. Discussion and possible action on items for future meetings.
Commissioner Bush asked for consideration of a by-law change to allow meetings to start at 10am instead of 9:30am.
Commissioner Finlev asked about a presentation regarding the enforcement process, including the number of cases filed, how we respond to complainants, timeline, etc.
Chair Lee asked Director Pelham to put those two items on the March Agenda.
No public comment was received.
Item 11. Additional opportunity for public comment on matters appearing or not appearing on the agenda pursuant to Ethics Commission Bylaws Article VII Section 2.
No public comments.
Item 12. Adjournment.
The Commission adjourned at 2:21pm, in honor of Bob Planthold.