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June 9, 2023 Meeting Agenda Item 9 – Discussion and possible action regarding request for waiver of post-employment restrictions for Joanne Lee.


Summary and Action Requested

This memo provides background and analysis to assist the Commission in determining whether to grant a post-employment waiver to Joanne Lee. The Commission should evaluate Ms. Lee’s waiver request and as required by City law, consider if not granting Ms. Lee’s waiver would cause extreme hardship for Ms. Lee. Based on its review of Ms. Lee’s request and applicable law, Staff recommends that the Commission not approve the waiver.


On May 26, Joanne Lee sent a formal request to the Commission asking that part of the City’s post-employment restrictions in the Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code (C&GCC) be waived. Ms. Lee is currently a City employee, serving as the Deputy Director of the Arts Commission (ART). Ms. Lee is seeking a waiver for City’s prohibition on receiving compensation from City contractors imposed by Subsection 3.234(a)(3), so that she may accept an offer of employment from the Chinatown Media & Arts Collaborative (CMAC). Ms. Lee’s waiver request is included as Attachment 1. The facts included in this memorandum are drawn from Ms. Lee’s written request, documents acquired through Ms. Lee, and communications between Ms. Lee and Staff.

Ms. Lee first contacted Staff about this matter on April 28, following an email introduction from Deputy City Attorney Brad Russi. Staff met with Ms. Lee on May 2 to discuss her employment offer and the applicability of the City’s post-employment restrictions.

Following several communications with Ms. Lee, Staff provided Lee with informal advice on May 16 that confirmed a waiver from the Commission would be required for her to accept employment with CMAC and offered guidance on how to formally request such a waiver. A copy of Staff’s informal advice to Ms. Lee is included here as Attachment 2.

Applicable Law

The City has rules for all officers and employees that restrict what former City officials can do after they leave City service. These rules include a permanent restriction on representing any other person (except the City) before any court or government agency in connection with particular matters in which the former City official was personally and substantially involved, a one-year restriction on communicating with the former City official’s former department with the intent to influence a government decision, and a prohibition on being employed by parties that contract with the City.

These rules further the purposes of the Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code, which per Section 3.200 is chiefly to “promote fairness and equity for all residents and to maintain public trust in governmental institutions.” The law seeks to ensure “that public officers and employees [are] independent, impartial, and responsible to the people and that public office and employment [is] not…used for personal gain.” The Code also asserts that government decisions by City officers and employees “should be, and should appear to be, made on a fair and impartial basis.”

Permanent Restriction on Representation in Particular Matters

Subsection 3.234(a)(1) of the C&GCC prohibits former employees from representing any other person (except the City) before any court or government agency in connection with particular matter in which the former employee was personally and substantially involved in as a City employee, with intent to influence. Ethics Commission Regulation 3.234-1 outlines the scope of this restriction and provides guidance on determining whether this permanent ban applies to certain activities.

One-Year Restriction on Communicating with Former Department

Subsection 3.234(a)(2) of the C&GCC prohibits former employees from, with the intent to influence a government decision, communicating on behalf of any other person (except the City) with any officer or employee of the department for which the former employee served, for one year following the termination of their employment with the City. Ethics Commission Regulation 3.234-2 outlines the scope of this restriction and provides guidance on determining whether this one-year ban applies.

Employment With Parties That Contract With the City

Subsection 3.234(a)(3) of the C&GCC prohibits current and former employees from being “employed by or otherwise receiv[ing] compensation from a person or entity that entered into a contract with the City within the preceding 12 months where the officer or employee personally and substantially participated in the award of the contract.” Ethics Commission Regulation 3.234-3 outlines the scope of this restriction and provides guidance on determining whether this prohibition applies.

This prohibition on employment with City contractors furthers the goals of the Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code by ensuring that City officials cannot help award a City contract and then become employed by the contractor who has recently benefitted from the actions of the City official.

This rule is intended to create a buffer between the time a contract is awarded and when a City official involved in the award of that contract may become employed by the contractor. This buffer is an important tool for ensuring that government decisions are, and appear to be, made fairly and impartially. Without this rule, City officials could be tempted to make government decisions with their short-term career goals in mind, rather than the best interests of the City. Even if a City official makes their decisions fairly and impartially, going to work for a City contractor within 12 months of them entering into their contract could create the appearance of corruption among the public. Just the appearance of corruption can erode the public’s faith in government and is something this rule is intended to prevent.

Waiver Authority of the Ethics Commission

Subsection 3.234(c)(3) of the C&GCC grants the Commission the ability to waive the prohibition on employment with parties that contract with the City, “if the Commission determines that imposing the restriction would cause extreme hardship for the…employee.”

Ethics Commission Regulation 3.234-4 further outlines the process for submitting and potentially approving post-employment waivers. The regulation specifies that the Commission “shall not approve any request for a waiver from the ban on receiving compensation from certain City contractors made under subsection 3.234(c)(3) unless the Commission makes a finding that imposing the restriction in subsection 3.234(a)(3) would cause extreme hardship for the individual.” When determining if not granting such a waiver would cause extreme hardship, the regulation specifies that the Commission may consider:

  • the vocation of the individual;
  • the range of employers for whom the individual could work;
  • the steps the individual has taken to find new employment; and
  • any other factors the Commission deems relevant.

When considering waiver requests, the Commission should also consider whether granting a waiver would further the purposes of the Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code. The Commission may grant a waiver only if it finds that not granting the waiver “would cause extreme hardship for the…employee.”

Waiver requests are evaluated based on the facts that are provided in the request, shared in related communications with Staff and the Commission, and found in additional documents provided to Staff and the Commission. These facts allow the Commission to evaluate whether a waiver is appropriate and must therefore be complete and accurate. Any waiver that the Commission grants is limited to the facts provided, and, should the facts change, the requestor should seek an updated waiver from the Commission.

Facts Presented

Joanne Lee is currently the Deputy Director of Programs at the Arts Commission, a position which she has held since joining City service in September of 2019. Ms. Lee has received an employment offer from the Chinatown Media and Arts Collaborative (CMAC). In this new position, she would be serving as the Executive Director of CMAC’s “Edge of the Square” project. Lee’s responsibilities would include developing the programs, building the administrative structure, fundraising, and managing the renovation of their building.

The job announcement for this position was emailed to Ms. Lee by CMAC’s interim Director Mabel Teng, in December of 2022. Ms. Lee applied for the position on January 23, 2023, and was interviewed on February 8 and 17, along with April 1, 5, 10, and 13. Ms. Lee’s pending employment offer from CMAC is dated April 18, 2023.

As a City employee, Ms. Lee has participated in the awarding of two grants to CMAC.

  1. Storm Relief Grant from the Arts Commission: In March of 2023, CMAC was awarded a $3,750 grant from the Arts Commission and Grants for the Arts (GTFA), which is a division of the City Administrator’s Office. This grant was awarded as part of the San Francisco Arts Storm Relief Fund program. As a City employee, Ms. Lee developed the RFP guidelines for this grant program, reviewed applications, and made the awards with two other staffers from ART and GFTA. These grants were jointly funded by ART and GFTA, with ART supplying the majority of the funding ($98,994.70 of the $118,994.70, the remaining $20,000 was supplied by GFTA). This funding covered the grants awarded and the administrative fee charged by Intersection for the Arts (IFTA), a nonprofit organization that contracts with GFTA and was used to sub-grant out the grants to the awardees. As of mid-April, these grant funds had not yet been disbursed, but that may have changed since then.
  2. Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative (NSI) Grant from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD): In March of 2022, Ms. Lee participated in a selection panel, which awarded CMAC a tentative grant of $1,000,000 through the Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative (NSI) program. The NSI program is funded by the City’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD). The program is administered by a nonprofit organization, Community Vision, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development and the Arts Commission. Grants are awarded by a selection panel, which is comprised of six panelists, three of whom represent the City and three who do not represent the City. Ms. Lee served as one of these six panelists as a City employee. The panel met on March 16, 2022, and CMAC received their award letter last year on March 23. As a panelist, Ms. Lee reviewed and scored the grant proposals. While the NSI program is City-funded, the grants are administered by Community Vision and Community Vision is the party that signs the award letters and grant agreements. Ms. Lee has stated that as far as she is aware, these grant funds have not yet been disbursed, due to CMAC not having met the grant conditions and not having the staff capacity necessary to provide the required documentation.


The Need for a Waiver for Ms. Lee to Accept Employment with CMAC and Perform the Duties of that Position

For both the permanent restriction on representation in particular matters rule and the one-year post-employment communication rule, Ms. Lee is aware of both rules and has stated she intends to comply with them. If Ms. Lee wanted to represent CMAC, or any other non-City entity regarding any particular matters in which she personally and substantially participated as a City employee (such as the awarding of the Storm Relief or NSI grants), she would need to seek a waiver from the Commission to allow that representation. Similarly, if Ms. Lee wanted to communicate with her former colleagues at the Arts Commission with the intent to influence a government decision within 12 months of leaving City service, she would also need a waiver from the Commission. Ms. Lee is aware of both of these rules and is not currently seeking a waiver for either rule. Based on the facts provided, Staff does not believe a waiver for either of these rules is necessary for Ms. Lee to be employed by CMAC and perform her duties as described.

Based on the facts presented in Ms. Lee’s waiver request, Staff agrees that a waiver for the restriction on employment with parties that contract with City is necessary for Ms. Lee to accept employment with CMAC.

Based on Ethics Commission Regulation 3.234-3, the restriction on employment with parties that contract with the City would apply to Ms. Lee’s proposed employment with CMAC, since:

  1. Ms. Lee would be accepting employment and be entitled to compensation from CMAC, which is an entity other than the City.
  2. The entity offering the employment, CMAC, will have entered into contracts with the City during the 12 months prior to Ms. Lee receiving or being entitled to compensation.
  3. Ms. Lee participated personally and substantially in the award of both the Storm Relief grant and the NSI grant, per the definition of “participate personally and substantially” found in Ethics Commission Regulation 3.234-5(e).

Regarding bullet point #2 above, since it appears CMAC has not yet accepted either the Storm Relief grant or the NSI grant, the 12-month period prohibitory period has not yet started. However, if Ms. Lee were to accept the employment with CMAC and then CMAC were to receive either grant, Ms. Lee would be prohibited from receiving or being entitled to compensation from CMAC for the following 12 months. Additionally, the Code and Regulations are clear that the 12-month period starts when the new employer enters into the contract, not when the City official participates in the award of the contract, so the fact that Ms. Lee participated in the award of the NSI grant more than 12 months ago does not prevent the rule from applying. Lastly, both of these grants are intended to be sub-granted out through non-City entities (IFTA and Community Vision), however both grants are funded by the City and the recipients are determined by City officials. Having these funds first pass through a non-City entity does not prevent CMAC from being considered an entity that contracts with the City for the purpose of Subsection 3.234(a)(3).

In order for Ms. Lee to receive or be entitled to compensation from CMAC, within the 12 months following CMAC’s acceptance of either the Storm Relief or NSI grant, Ms. Lee would need a waiver from the Ethics Commission for the restriction on employment with parties that contract with City.

Considering if Imposing the Prohibition on Employment with Parties that Contract with the City would Cause Extreme Hardship for Ms. Lee

As the Commission considers if not granting a wavier to Ms. Lee would cause Ms. Lee extreme hardship, Regulation 3.234-4 identifies several factors for the Commission to consider. These factors include:

Ms. Lee’s vocation, the range of employers for whom Ms. Lee could work, and the steps Ms. Lee has taken to find new employment.

Ms. Lee describes this employment opportunity with CMAC as unique and well suited to her talents, skills, and interests. Ms. Lee also has indicated that she may be qualified for other positions in the areas of arts, real estate, and economic development. While few positions may intersect with all three of these areas, it would appear Ms. Lee does likely have options should she wish to leave City service and pursue employment elsewhere.

Ms. Lee was notified of this position at CMAC when the interim director of the organization emailed her about it, and as far as Staff are aware, Ms. Lee has not been engaged in a larger job search or taken any other steps to seek out new employment. Given this, it is unclear how difficult it would be for Ms. Lee to acquire new employment in her field outside of the City.

While the position with CMAC does sound like a good opportunity for Ms. Lee, it is unclear how not accepting this position would be an extreme hardship. Ms. Lee is currently employed by the City and if she does not accept the offer with CMAC, she could presumably remain employed by the City indefinitely. Ms. Lee could also remain employed by the City while researching and applying for other jobs, with organizations where her employment would not be prohibited by City laws. Imposing the rule in Subsection 3.234(a)(3) on Ms. Lee would not leave her unemployed or without access to healthcare. Not granting the waiver would essentially leave Ms. Lee in the same position she was in in December of 2022, before she learned about this opportunity with CMAC. While the term ‘extreme hardship’ is not defined in the Code or regulations, it is difficult to argue that remaining the Deputy Director of Programs for a City department, while you potentially look for other employment opportunities, is an extreme hardship.

In her waiver request, Ms. Lee wrote about a waiver the Commission approved in 2011 for the then-Director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing. In this waiver, the requestor issued 150-175 grants and loans each year in their role. This requestor argued that given the volume of grants and loans he approved each year and the relatively small field in which he worked (affordable housing), that he did not believe it would be possible to find another director-level position in San Francisco where he could work without first acquiring a waiver for the rule in Subsection 3.234(a)(3). It is unclear how analogous this situation is to Ms. Lee’s, considering the variety of fields in which she may be able to find employment.

Other factors that may be relevant.

While working on Ms. Lee’s request for informal advice on this matter, Staff observed a potential violation of the C&GCC that Ms. Lee may have committed by participating in the of award of the Storm Relief to CMAC, when she was already discussing employment with CMAC. Subsection 3.206(c) of the C&GCC prohibits employees from making, participating in making, or otherwise seeking to influence a government decision, affecting an entity with whom the employee is discussing or negotiating an agreement concerning future employment.

As presented above, Ms. Lee applied for the position with CMAC in January, began interviewing in February, participated in the award of the Storm Relief grant in March, and then continued to interview with CMAC in April. These facts suggest that Ms. Lee may have violated Subsection 3.206(c).

After identifying this potential violation, Staff notified Ms. Lee on May 10 and recommended she proactively reach out to the Commission’s Enforcement Division regarding this matter. Ms. Lee contacted the Enforcement Division the following day regarding this potential violation. The current status of this matter and any subsequent actions by the Enforcement Division are confidential per the City Charter.

Staff have included this information so that the Commission is aware of the situation. The Commission can determine if it wishes to consider this potential violation a relevant factor in Ms. Lee’s wavier request.


As previously mentioned, there is no definition of ‘extreme hardship’ in the Code or related regulations, as such it is up to the Commission to evaluate and determine if not granting Ms. Lee’s waiver request would cause her extreme hardship.

Considering that Ms. Lee is already currently employed by the City, is not being forced to leave her current employment, and has not engaged in a lengthy or extensive search for new employment, Staff does not find that imposing the prohibition in Subsection 3.234(a)(3) on Ms. Lee would cause her extreme hardship, and thus recommends the Commission not approve Ms. Lee’s waiver request.

Staff would like to thank Ms. Lee for her detailed waiver request, thoughtful communications throughout this process, and service to the City.


Attachment 1: Waiver Request from Joanne Lee Dated May 26, 2023

Attachment 2: Informal Advice Provided to Joanne Lee on May 16, 2023

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