Draft Minutes – March 18, 2022

Draft Minutes of the Special Meeting of
The San Francisco Ethics Commission
Friday, March 18, 2022
In-Person Meeting Conducted in City Hall Room 400
1 Dr. Carlton B.Goodlett Place, San Francisco
and also Held Online as a Remote Meeting 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, and Daina Chiu, 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.

MATERIALS DISTRIBUTED:

Item 1. Call to order and roll call.

Chair Yvonne Lee convened the meeting at 10:10am and stated that the hybrid meeting is being held pursuant to the Forty-fifth Supplement to Mayoral Proclamation Declaring the Existence of a Local Emergency Dated February 25, 2020, which the Mayor issued February 10, 2022. Meeting Moderator Ronald Contreraz summarized procedures for participation by members of the public for the hybrid meeting.

Chair Lee noted Commissioner Finlev had an excused absence from the meeting.

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

Lois Scott spoke, stating she has been a resident of San Francisco for 42 years and is a member of an informal group called the Anti-Corruption Coalition, which monitors good government issues. Scott stated she was happy to see Commissioners back in-person. She stated Senior citizens have benefitted from virtual meetings. She also saluted former-Commissioner Peter Keane. She expressed a desire for the Commission to continue working to reign in independent expenditure committees, with more analysis and more proposed regulations. Scott commended the Commission on its work and is cheering the Commission on.

Mark Solomon spoke, stating he is a 33-year resident of San Francisco. Solomon has been affiliated with Friends with Ethics and worked for years on anti-corruption issues. He stated his  prior work was undercut at the last minute, causing Commissioner Keane to resign. Then the US Attorney and FBI find that San Francisco government is corrupt on behested payments. This is why they have formed the Anti-Corruption Coalition. Solomon said that the Ethics Commission was too narrowly focused and corruption in government needs to be addressed. San Franciscans need to come together to stand against the corrupt interests and the Commission needs to become a part of the Anti-Corruption Coalition.

CONSENT CALENDAR ITEMS

Item 3. Draft Minutes of the Commission’s February 11, 2022 regular meeting.

Commissioner Romano made a motion to approve the February 11, 2022 regular meeting minutes, which was seconded by Commissioner Chiu.

No discussion and no public comment was received.

The motion carried unanimously (4-0).

Motion 220318-01 (Romano/Chiu): Moved, seconded, and passed (4-0) to approve the February 11, 2022 regular meeting minutes as drafted.

NON-CONSENT CALENDAR ITEMS

Item 4. Presentation and possible action to acknowledge outgoing Commission Member Daina Chiu, whose full six-year term of service on the Ethics Commission is concluding.

Commissioner Bush acknowledged work Commissioner Chiu has done over the years.

Commissioner Romano commended Commissioner Chiu for all her work.

Public Comments:

Commissioner Chiu’s husband spoke to thank her for all of her work and service to the City for the past 6 years.

Shawn McMorris expressed thanks to Commissioner Chiu for her good work on the Commission. McMorris said he considers Commission to be gold standard across the state and country.

Debbi Lerman San Francisco Human Services Network spoke to thank Commissioner Chiu for her service. Lerman said that Commissioner Chiu has always considered the publics comments seriously and thoroughly considers the public’s input before taking any decision.

Chair Lee acknowledged all of Commissioner Chiu’s service to the people of the City of San Francisco. She highlighted the work Commissioner Chiu did three years ago with the corruption cases that erupted at the time. Commissioner Chiu always carried her work with the mind of service to the people of San Francisco. Chair Lee expressed her gratitude for a job beyond well done.

Director Pelham read the resolution the Commission prepared for Commissioner Chiu for her service. She thanked Commissioner Chiu for her leadership, hard work, and service to the people of San Francisco.

Commissioner Chiu thanked the Commission and public for the opportunity to have served in this role.

Chair Lee, Director Pelham, and the rest of the Commissioners presented an appreciation plaque and flowers to Commissioner Chiu.

Commissioner Romano presented the plaque to Commissioner Chiu. Pelham presented the resolution prepared on behalf of the Commission commending Commissioner Chiu for her exemplary service.

No vote was called or taken.

Item 5. Discussion and possible action on proposed amendment to Commission Bylaws Article VII, Section 4 to change regular start time of Ethics Commission regular meetings.

Chair Lee stated that the proposal is to change meeting times from 9:30am to 10:00am.

Commissioner Bush said he believes 10:00am is better for all and will allow people to participate fully.

No public comments were received.

Commissioner Chiu made a motion to approve the amendment to the Commission Bylaws, which was seconded by Commissioner Romano. The motion was approved unanimously (4-0).

Motion 220318-02 (Chiu/Romano): Moved, seconded, and passed (4-0) to adopt the proposed amendments to the Commission Bylaws as drafted.

Chair Lee noted that meeting times are dictated by the availability of meeting rooms. The Chair said Director Pelham should continue to look for meeting blocks and rooms for later meeting times around 4pm or 5pm to allow more participation for those who need to work. Chair Lee wants to remind the public that the Deputy City Attorney has advised that as long as there is advance notice, the meeting time for a meeting can be changed.

Item 6. 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. 

Director Pelham noted that Staff is available for brief presentation on this item.

Policy Analyst Michael Canning gave a presentation on the status of the Government Ethics and Conflict of Interest Review Project. Canning reviewed each phase of the project and the dates they were presented to the Commission.  He provided an update on the ongoing meet and confer process that prevented the Commission from voting to place the proposed measure on June 2022 ballot. Canning clarified that for the measure to appear on the November 2022 ballot, it must be submitted by August 5th, 2022.

Canning reviewed the revised recommendations contained in the staff report on the proposed ballot measure and regulation amendments.

Commissioner Chiu asked a question regarding the second revised recommendation regarding how seeking, obtaining, or possessing a license would be determined. Canning addressed the question explaining that it is focusing of the rules on individuals who are involved in reviewing and approving these items.

Chair Lee asked how would “substantially involved” be defined. Canning explained that this is a term already used in Section 3.234, and that the definition from that section can be applied here.

Commissioner Bush asked a question regarding a complaint regarding the issuance of a permit; at which point does it trigger to a higher level? Canning explained the process of how certain instances will impact other individuals involved in the process.

Commissioner Romano clarified the question about who would be considered a restricted source – is it limited to the person seeking the permit? What about those trying to block the permit of someone else? Canning clarified that the fact that someone is opposing a permit would not make them a restricted source under this prong, but if they’re trying to influence a City official to revoke or deny someone else’s permit, that active attempt to influence would cause them to become a restricted source.

Commissioner Romano stated that it appears that the person seeking to oppose the permit is seeking to influence the public official. Therefore, the person would be considered a restricted source.

Commissioner Bush asked if there would be liability for the person giving the gift? Canning said no, but the City official will be liable. Commissioner Bush said he thinks liability should also go to the giver, not just the receiver.

Commissioner Romano suggested the Commission clarify that a ‘person seeking to influence the seeking or retaining of a license’ be a restricted source. Commissioner Chiu agreed with Commissioner Romano, because it focuses on the actions the person is taking to influence the outcome of the application.

Commissioner Romano asked for an explanation of “discounted rates.” Canning clarified that it means “discounted rates” to the general public (for example, a mattress sale in a mattress shop that is available to general public) would not be considered gifts.

Commissioner Bush asked about greeting cards to clarify if the gift exception includes greeting cards that include gift cards in them. Canning noted that would still be considered a gift.

Commissioner Bush asked about greeting cards that are works of arts that have a value. Canning suggested that if it’s personalized, that would diminish the resale value and could address that issue.

Commissioner Romano responded that a definition of what a greeting card is could be developed if needed, for example a retail dollar value that does not exceed a certain number. Canning explained that the greeting card issue did not come from the meet and confer process but from comments from members of the public.

Chair Lee explained further that member of the public had concerns that they would not be able to show appreciation to City leaders through homemade cards.

Commissioner Romano stated the Commission can work to make sure to keep public/community engagement a priority.

Commissioner Chiu asked a question regarding the vote requirement in behested payments measure. The measure would create a supermajority vote requirement for the Board of Supervisors, but a majority vote from the Ethics Commission. Commissioner Chiu asked what the reason for the discrepancy in the vote count requirement was. Canning replied he did not have insight on the Board’s reasoning.

Canning suggested that for next steps, staff will continue to work with the Department of Human Resources (DHR) and Municipal Executives Association (MEA) to conclude the ongoing meet and confer process. Revised recommendations will continue to be presented to the Commission. Feedback from Commission and public is sought regarding revised recommendations presented today.

Commissioner Chiu asked about the timeline for the ongoing meet and confer. Commission Chiu would like meetings and outreach to continue.

Commissioner Chiu made a motion to continue to have ongoing discussions and meetings, public outreach, and continue the meet and confer process. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Romano.

Commissioner Bush said he wants the staff to provide a list of recommendations that have come from the meet and confer process versus recommendations from the Commission staff so they can compare.

Canning clarified that matters discussed in the meet and confer process are confidential and information provided to the Commission needs to consider that.

Chair Lee also reminded the public that they can hold closed sessions to discuss matters but they cannot be disclosed unless there is a vote to disclose them.

Chair Lee asked Shen to review the timeline regarding the deadline for when a vote can be placed on the ballot.

Commissioner Bush explained that the reason he wants to compare the list of comments from the rest of the stakeholders – it appears that a lot of the revisions and proposals the Staff has made has only been in response to the Commission’s concerns and comments.

Chair Lee asked Shen to review the process and timeline for placing something on the ballot.

Shen confirmed the August 5th deadline that Canning shared. He confirmed the meet and confer process is confidential. Sharing confidential discussions from the process could constitute unfair labor practices. Shen said he is happy to meet with DHR to discuss what may be disclosable. If successfully concluding meet and confer is not possible, both parties can declare an impasse, after which a mediator will be contacted. Shen emphasized he is not suggesting that is imminent, but rather that it is a possible path available in the future.

Commissioner Romano noted that the impasse process is long and may lead to litigation, which could extend long beyond August. Shen acknowledged this to be the case.

Commissioner Bush asked Shen how he would define ‘negotiating in good faith.’

Shen noted that there is no bright line, it can be as long as there is continuing open communication between both parties.

Commissioner Romano wanted to know if he could ask staff if the recommendations suggested for today address all of the concerns addressed by either side during the meet and confer process. Shen said that would be confidential information. Commissioner Romano replied he would not ask the question in that case.

Commissioner Bush asked to know where the rules of confidentiality come from. He stated he believes this is in conflict with mission of transparency and public access.

Shen said he would be happy to follow up with information with the Commission to see what can be shared, as well as the basis for the rule of confidentiality under the law.

Public Comments:

Shawn McMorris from California Common Cause spoke and read a letter sent to the Commission ahead of the meeting. The letter thanked the Commission for considering amendments on proposed ballot, especially on removing liability from gift givers and focusing on receivers. McMorris said he does not believe placing sole liability on the gift receiver will diminish the effectiveness of the law.

Ralph Remington, the Director of Cultural Affairs for the San Francisco Arts Commission said that the ballot measure should be focused on bribery and that he is opposed to the proposed ballot measure revisions. When City officials attend events, they attend it carrying out their jobs. The industry standard is that two tickets can be accepted. He stated that the proposed measure would result in huge racial disparities. The discussion on greeting cards misses what the focus of this ballot measure should do.

Debbi Lerman said that the changes don’t address her concerns. The measure goes too far in prohibiting gifts that don’t rise to level of corruption. The draft measure would allow comped tickets only when attendance is necessary to the job. Public officials provide crucial functions in participating in these events which are funded by nonprofits. More City support is required for private fundraising efforts. Such support includes attendance by City officials. It is unlikely that officials would attend these events without comp tickets. She stated that attendance at the events is a necessary part of public official’s jobs and that the law will have a chilling effect on the relationships between members of the public and City officials.

Chair Lee called for a vote directing staff to continue ongoing meet and confer activities with City partners, including DHR, plus continuing engagement with members of the public.

Commissioner Bush stated the need for action and to come up with proposals following felony charges against twelve City officials. This is not creating a response to a non-existing situation. There are criminal charges involving City officials, including some senior officials. Actions of the Commission are designed to address the issues in those cases.

The motion was approved unanimously (4-0).

Motion 220318-03 (Chiu/Romano): Moved, seconded, and passed (4-0) to direct staff to continue participating in the meet and confer process over the proposed changes, engaging with the public, and bringing future revised recommendations to the Commission.

 

Item 7. 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.

Director Pelham provided an update on in-person work activities, the filing season for Statements of Economic Interests, job opportunities with the Commission, and staffing changes.

Chair Lee commended staff for their work on recent trainings.

Commissioner Chiu congratulated Director Pelham on the move to electronic filing of the Form 700 and asked for her thanks to passed to the staff team for their work on this project.

Commissioner Romano stated he agreed and thanked staff for all their hard work on accomplishing the move to electronic filing.

Commissioner Bush underscored that Director Pelham has had to take on an increasing variety of issues and that she has handled it well.

No public comments were received.

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

Item 8.  Discussion and possible action on items for future meetings.

Commissioner Bush stated he wants to see a report on independent expenditures, especially regarding folks who give through independent expenditure committees to avoid our campaign contribution limits and restrictions on contributions from prohibited sources. Commissioner Bush stated he understands that independent expenditure committees are not regulated but wants to see if the rules that apply to candidate committees may apply to independent expenditure committees who make contributions to campaigns.

Commissioner Bush also expressed that he wants to see transparency requirements for gifts that includes the giver, the recipient, and amount involving any city officials and nonprofits.  Commissioner Bush wants to see when the Board approves gifts that it’s for a City public purpose and for a given amount.

Commissioner Bush noted that the gift issue is not unique to San Francisco, other jurisdictions have come to San Francisco to inquire about certain gift issues. Commissioner Bush recommends that staff look to other jurisdictions to see how they handle the issues.

Commissioner Chiu suggested a presentation that would demonstrate the campaign finance dashboards to show how information can be obtained from filings. Commissioner Chiu noted she will not be here but states it would be beneficial. Visualization of data is very powerful to see where the money is coming from.

Chair Lee asked that presentation on the dashboards occur in the next month. Chair Lee also expressed interest in an update on the schoolboard recall.

No public comments were received.

Item 9. 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 were received.

Item 10. Adjournment.

The Commission adjourned at 12:10 pm in honor of Commissioner Chiu.

 

 

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