January 9, 2023
To: Members of the Ethics Commission
From: LeeAnn Pelham, Executive Director
Subject: Agenda Item 5 – Executive Director Report for January 2023
Summary and Action Requested
This report provides various programmatic and operational highlights since the last Executive Director’s Report. No action is required by the Commission, as this item is for informational purposes only.
Acting Staff Appointments During Executive Search Process
For the upcoming transitional period while the Commission conducts its search process for the next Executive Director, I have appointed Gayathri Thaikkendiyil to serve as Acting Executive Director effective Tuesday, January 24th. As Deputy Director since July 2018, and with Chief Operating Officer (COO) duties added in July 2020, Gayathri has collaborated closely with me on all facets of departmental and resource planning, staff management, and operations across all functional and program areas. Prior to serving as Deputy Director/COO, she led our program operations and education division following a one-year FUSE Executive Fellowship in our office in 2017. Before joining the City, Gayathri had extensive experience leading disbursed technology and customer service teams in the business sector. She has also engaged regularly in community and non-profit interests, including as a youth mentor, and as President of the Indian Employee Group at her prior employer, American Airlines; and assisting in developing curriculum and conducting STEM classes for girls as a Diversity Advisory Council Member at American.
Steven Massey will serve as Acting Deputy Director/Chief Operating Officer. In this interim capacity, also effective Tuesday, January 24, Steven will provide continuity over the coming months for the full range of duties handled by Gayathri in her role as Deputy Director. Steven first joined the Ethics Commission in 2005. He currently serves as Director of Technology Services and leads the Electronic Disclosure and Data Analysis Division (EDDA), where he has responsibility for the development and implementation of technology solutions to advance the Commission’s programs and operations. Steven has previous experience in budget, finance, and performance reporting, including as Acting COO in 2020.
While Steven is Acting Deputy Director/COO, Jarrod Flores will serve as Acting Director of Technology Services to provide continuity in the Division’s work. Jarrod is currently on the EDDA team and has been with the Commission for more than 15 years, having started as an intern in 2004. As Senior IS Analyst, Jarrod brings a strong background in procurement and project management to this interim role.
As a continuing member of the executive leadership team, Director of Enforcement Patrick Ford will collaborate closely on all core departmental initiatives with Gayathri and Steven in their new interim roles the coming months.
As with any period of organizational transition, various additional operational needs may arise and additional acting appointments may be needed in the coming months to help support the department’s operations. Gayathri will keep you posted about any new developments on that front.
Findings of Probable Cause Published
Three Findings of Probable Cause were published in Commission enforcement matters over the past month as required by regulations that govern the Commission’s Enforcement processes:
- In the Matter of Progress San Francisco, Vince Courtney, Jr., and Shawnda Deane SFEC Case 2021-025;
- In the Matter of Victor Makras (SFEC Case 2021-001); and
- In the Matter of Paul Allen Taylor, SFEC Case 1920-031).
If an enforcement matter is not settled or dismissed after an investigation, the Enforcement Director may initiate probable cause proceedings as detailed in the Commission’s Enforcement Regulations through service of a report in support of a finding of probable cause. The Ethics Commission’s Enforcement Regulations provide that the Executive Director may recommend a finding of probable cause to believe a violation occurred “if the evidence is sufficient to lead a person of ordinary caution and prudence to believe or entertain a strong suspicion that a respondent committed or caused a violation.” If the Executive Director recommends a finding of probable cause, it must be in writing and be based solely on the evidence and argument presented by the parties during the probable cause process. If Executive Director’s finding that probable cause exists is ratified by the Commission in a process further detailed in the Regulations, a Finding of Probable Cause must be published on the Commission’s website as a public document.
A Finding of Probable Cause does not constitute a finding that a violation of law has occurred. Following the publication of a Finding of Probable Cause, the Ethics Commission must then proceed with a hearing on the merits. During that hearing the parties will have the opportunity to present their arguments and the right to call and examine witnesses under oath or affirmation, to introduce exhibits, to cross-examine and impeach witnesses, and to rebut any evidence presented. Based on that hearing, the Commission will determine whether a violation actually occurred, and if so, what penalties should be assessed. The Commission’s Enforcement Regulations provide that the Executive Director will schedule the hearing and provide notice to each respondent at least 30 calendar days prior to the commencement of the hearing.
Year End Legislative Updates
Follow-up to Actions Taken During December Commission Meeting
At the Commission’s December meeting, the Commission voted to approve an ordinance (File# 221161) amending Campaign & Governmental Conduct Code Sec. 1.161 to modify disclaimer requirements for campaign advertisements. On December 12, Staff referred the approved legislation back to the Board of Supervisors for further action.
The Commission also voted to approve new regulations regarding the City’s behested payment rules at the December meeting. On December 12, Staff referred the approved regulations to the Board of Supervisors, where the Board has a 60-day period in which they can veto the regulations with a two-thirds vote. If the Board does not vote to veto within the 60-day period, the regulations will become effective at the end of the 60-days on February 7, 2023.
Board of Supervisors Resolution on Commission Audits
On December 16, the Board of Supervisors unanimously enacted a resolution (File# 221211) urging the Ethics Commission to timely complete its backlog of outstanding campaign finance and lobbyists audits. The resolution “strongly urges the Ethics Commission to (1) create the core components of a long term, sustainable, and timely auditing function with ongoing audit plans to be reviewed by the Ethics Commission and promptly implemented; and (2) immediately seek and obtain external auditing services or auditing services from the City Controller to substantially shorten the projected time frames for the outstanding audit backlog for mandatory campaign and lobbyist audits.”
As of writing, the Board of Supervisors has not been in contact with the Ethics Commission regarding this resolution and Staff are awaiting communication from the Board regarding this action and potential next steps.
BLA Citywide Performance Audit on Management of Conflicts of Interest
On November 29, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an expansion of the audit work plan for its Budget and Legislative Analyst (BLA) to include a performance audit of how conflicts of interest are managed citywide. The Board directed the BLA to assess the City’s approach to minimizing conflicts of interest among public officials, staff, and contractors including a review of Statements of Economic Interests (Form 700), a review of departmental-level controls, and a survey of other jurisdictions. BLA Auditors held an entrance meeting with Commission Staff on December 19 to discuss the scope and planned timeline for the citywide audit and have begun interviews with Commission staff to gather background and documents. At this point the BLA anticipates issuing a public audit report in late Summer or early Fall.
Supervisor Safai Outside Employment Letter of Inquiry
On November 29, during the Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Safai issued a letter of inquiry to the Department of Public Health, the Department of Human Resources, and the Ethics Commission regarding the existence of an ethics review when an employee receives outside income from a contractor with DPH. The Clerk of the Board sent this inquiry to the Ethics Commission on December 2. On December 14, the Ethics Commission sent a response to this letter of inquiry to the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors. The Department of Public Health and the Department of Human Resources sent a joint response to the letter of inquiry, also on December 14.
New “Pay to Play” Law in Effect January 1
On January 1, 2023, a new state law took effect that is designed to extend longstanding state “pay-to-play” restrictions to local elected officials who make contracting and certain permitting and land use decisions as a member of a local elected body. Effective January 1, 2023, SB 1439 1) limits the solicitation or acceptance of campaign contributions from sponsors and their agents following a vote, and 2) prohibits officials from voting on a project based on past campaign contributions. This law expands the Levine Act, first adopted in 1982, to local elected officials (the Levine Act had applied only to appointed officials such as commissioners and department heads). Our office and the City Attorney’s Office collaborated on an informational notice detailing the impact of SB 1439. Staff circulated this notice to the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors for dissemination to members of the Board of Supervisors and their staff on December 28. The notice is also available on the Commission’s website.
Commission Website Gets a New Look
On December 14, 2022, staff launched a redesigned Ethics Commission website at sfethics.org. The web site updates focus on enhancements based on feedback received from users and improved support for mobile devices. The new website also modernizes the technical underpinnings of the site to enable additional improvements to be made over the course of the next two years. In November 2021, the Committee on Information Technology passed the Digital Accessibility and Inclusion Standard (DIAS), which defines accessibility and language access requirements for City web sites. This includes meeting Level AA of the most recent Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, providing vital information to the public at a 5th grade level, and delivering human translation of vital information in the threshold languages defined by the Language Access Ordinance. In addition, the DIAS calls for equitable design standards that focus on affordability by minimizing data consumption, meeting the City’s Cybersecurity Policy, and prioritizing users on mobile devices. The technical improvements to the site are the first steps in the process for the Commission to comply with the DIAS by the implementation due date in May 2024.
Meeting Time and Room Change for Upcoming Special Meeting
The Commission will hold a special meeting on Friday, January 20 for a public hearing on FY24-FY25 budget priorities. This meeting was originally scheduled to start at 10 a.m. but due to room unavailability it is now scheduled to begin at 1.30 p.m. at City Hall, Room 416.
I am pleased to share news that Erin Fischer will be joining the Commission staff on January 23, 2023 as a Training and Outreach Specialist with the Ethics@Work program. Erin most recently served as a training and development specialist at a local technology company, where she oversaw the design, implementation, and evaluation of training curricula and customer care programs. As part of that work, she created content and facilitated both in-person and online training courses audiences of 100+, and managed systems housing departmental e-learnings. She also has planned, facilitated, and evaluated onboarding and learning experiences in the higher education space at SF State, the University of San Diego, and Brown University, where she also supported university-level diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Erin holds an MA in Higher Education Leadership from the University of San Diego and a BA in Biopsychology, Cognition, & Neuroscience from the University of Michigan.
…And Lastly, a Personal Note of Thanks
As I step away from my role as Executive Director this month, I want to end this report with a note of personal thanks and appreciation to the Staff I’ve had the honor and privilege to serve alongside.
The progress the Ethics Commission has made over the past seven years in fortifying, re-envisioning, and re-building essential foundations of its work has significantly strengthened its operations and services across all program areas. While this ongoing work may not have the same kind of public visibility as the resolution of an enforcement matter or a weighty public policy discussion, it is equally critical to effectively advancing the Commission’s core mission, and to sustaining those achievements.
Throughout the department, and through work that can be very challenging, the talented and dedicated individuals who make up the staff of the Ethics Commission continue to demonstrate the kind of focus, skill, creativity, and tenacity that reflects public service at its best. There is much to look forward to as an exciting new chapter gets underway at the Ethics Commission.
With thanks and in appreciation for your service,