Minutes of the Special Meeting of
The San Francisco Ethics Commission
Friday, January 20, 2023
Hybrid meeting conducted in-person in City Hall Room 416, 1 Dr. Carlton B.Goodlett Place, San Francisco, and also held online as a Remote Meeting via WebEx and aired live on SFGovTV
(Approved February 10, 2023)
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, Vice-Chair Larry Bush, and Commissioners Theis Finlev, Michael Romano, and Argemira Flórez Feng attending, a quorum was present.
STAFF PRESENTING: Gayathri Thaikkendiyil, Deputy Director; Eamonn Wilson, Onsite Clerk; Ronald Contreraz, Online Meeting Moderator.
REPRESENTATIVES OF THE OFFICE OF THE CITY ATTORNEY PRESENT: Brad Russi, Deputy City Attorney.
- Staff memo regarding Ethics Commission budget priorities for the Fiscal Year 2023-24 and Fiscal Year 2024-25 dated January 17, 2023.
- Staff presentation regarding Ethics Commission budget priorities for the Fiscal Year 2023-24 and Fiscal Year 2024-25 dated January 17, 2023.
Item 1. Call to order and roll call.
Chair Yvonne Lee convened the meeting at 1:34 p.m. 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.
Item 2. Public comment on matters not appearing on the agenda.
Under Item 2, the Commission provided the opportunity for general public comment on matters not appearing on the Agenda but within the Ethics Commission’s subject matter jurisdiction.
Chair Lee called for public comment. No public comment was received.
Item 3. Presentation, public hearing, and possible action on Ethics Commission budget priorities for the Fiscal Year 2023-24 and Fiscal Year 2024-25.
Chair Lee introduced the item and emphasized that the Mayor’s Budget instructions to City departments would require a 31% cut to ETH Staff over the next 2 years. Chair Lee asked Deputy Director Thaikkendiyil to present on the budget.
Deputy Director Thaikkendiyil gave a presentation to the Commission on the FY24-25 priorities.
Commissioner Finlev asked about the decrease in position described being based on just expiring positions.
Thaikkendiyil stated that the reduction in the number of staff positions is based upon three things: the expiration of positions, the Mayor’s target budget cuts, and attrition savings.
Commissioner Finlev asked if the Commission can meet the balanced budget based upon the expiration of positions and staff attrition or if there will have to be cuts to currently filled positions.
Thaikkendiyil stated that is not anticipated. Staff is hoping to make the case to extend these positions.
Commissioner Finlev asked whether in the worst-case scenario we wouldn’t be cutting filled positions. Thaikkendiyil confirmed that is correct.
Commission Finlev asked if the Commission is able to prioritize budgeting preferences or if the Mayor’s office prioritize its preference?
Thaikkendiyil stated that Staff tries to prioritize and sometimes the Mayor’s office will take that but last year they did not.
Commissioner Finlev stated this was understood and that these are sobering circumstances. He thanked Thaikkendiyil for her presentation.
Chair Lee asked Thaikkendiyil to walk through the relevant dates again. Thaikkendiyil restated the process timeline and next steps.
Commissioner Flores-Feng: When will Staff present to the BoS?
ED: Staff will present to the BoS Budget committee in the second week of June.
Commissioner Flórez Feng stated that she echoed that these are tough cuts and that they are difficult to navigate given the Commission’s needs. She asked how the team is functioning as currently staffed.
Thaikkendiyil stated Staff is working on the transition plan and prioritizing work accordingly.
Commissioner Bush stated that as a general rule, the Mayor’s budget doesn’t include savings from the courts. So, that is left to the Board to then reallocate to what is most important to them. He stated that the Commission could potentially get some of that funding and that the Commission could also look to other revenue rather than cuts. He spoke about increasing late fees and fines, for Form 700 violations and lobbyist reporting violations. He also stated he would like to see whether the Commission can contract out to fill staffing positions that have been vacant for 6 months or longer, stating the Commission could potentially fill these positions by a contract through the Controller’s Office or the FPPC.
Chair Lee stated that she would like the Commission to look into the revenue option and to determine whether the Commission has the authority to increase the penalties independently as a body. She also stated that even though the Mayor has issued these target cut guidelines, we are not a department that can easily absorb cuts to our operating budget given that our budget is primarily made up of staff salaries. Therefore, she would like for the Commission to employ the method we used in prior budget cycles to demonstrate to the Mayor the unique circumstances Ethics has as a department. In terms of the Commission’s priorities, she stated that she feels that the Commission does meet the priorities that the Mayor has set out and by continuing our efforts in areas such as Ethics@Work, Enforcement, and Outreach, the Commission does meet the local priorities the Mayor has set out and a strong case to keep or expand the Commission’s budget can be made.
Commissioner Romano stated that he would be strongly opposed to using fines and fees to supplement the Commission’s budget.
Commissioner Bush emphasized that a $100 max fine for Form 700 filing violations was not a sufficient deterrent.
Russi stated that the Gov’t Code provided the $100 max fine for Form 700 filing violations.
Thaikkendiyil stated that fines and fees collected do not go toward the Ethics Commission’s operating budget.
Commissioner Romano emphasized this topic was not appropriate for budget item agendized today.
Commissioner Finlev asked whether Staff would draft a written response to the Mayor to support the budget entered into the budget system. Thaikkendiyil confirmed that Staff would draft a summary to support the budget entered into the system and would submit that to the Mayor’s Budget Office.
David Pilpel stated that Board audit was important and noted that an 1823 Senior Administrative Assistant could be moved between Enforcement and Audits as needed. Pilpel also gave feedback on the Commission’s website. Pilpel said funding for Staff looked good, that it is time for another discussion of Enforcement Priorities, and that they were unsure if hiring a Commission Secretary made sense. Pilpel also stated support for hybrid meetings, as a way of leading to more participation.
No further public comment was received and public comment on the item was closed.
Item 4. Additional opportunity for public comment on matters not appearing on the agenda pursuant to Ethics Commission Bylaws Article VII Section 2.
Chair Lee called for public comment. No public comment was received.
Item 5. Adjournment.
The Commission adjourned at 2:39 p.m.