Summary and Action Requested
This memo provides the Commission with an update on the status of the ballot measure (https://sfethics.org/Ethics-Measure-Adopted-8-18-2023) that the Commission approved for the March 5, 2024 ballot during its August meeting. In addition to a general status update, this https://sfethics.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/2023.09.08-Agenda-Item-06-Ballot-Measure-Update-w-Attachments.pdfmemorandum provides information on next steps regarding the development and submission of ballot arguments, as well as the development of additional regulations related to the ballot measure. A brief review of the City’s rules regarding political activity is also provided.
This item is agendized for discussion as no Commission action is required at this time.
Update Since August Meeting
On August 23, Staff delivered the approved ordinance to the Department of Elections and have confirmed it was properly submitted and received for inclusion on the March 5, 2024 ballot. The regulation amendments approved by the Commission in August have also been properly filed with the Board of Supervisors. On August 23, Staff issued a press release regarding the approval of the ballot measure and the Commission’s actions have since been reported on locally in the press.
Following the August meeting, Staff have also been in contact with the Mayor’s Office and the Department of Public Health to inform them of the amendment that was made to remove the “financial interest” rule from Section 3.218(a)(1)(A). Notice of this amendment has also been shared by the Department of Human Resources to City bargaining units, so that they are aware the amendment was made.
Staff is in the process of developing additional materials, beyond the aforementioned press release, to provide the public with more factual information about what the measure would do if approved. For past ballot measures (in 2015 and 2016), the Commission has published FAQ documents for providing additional information about its ballot measures for this purpose.
Approval and Submission of Ballot Arguments and Rebuttals
The official Voter Information Pamphlets produced by the Department of Elections generally contain “ballot arguments” regarding each measure on the ballot. Additionally, shorter “rebuttal arguments” can be submitted in response to the ballot arguments of another party. In the past, the Ethics Commission has proved the proponent arguments for the ballot measures they have placed on the ballot. Attachment 1 contains the Commission’s ballot argument and rebuttal to the opponent’s argument regarding Proposition C from 2015 and the Commission’s ballot argument regarding Proposition T from 2016. These arguments are provided as an illustration of the Commission’s prior submissions to the Voter Information Pamphlets.
Staff is currently in contact with both the Department of Elections and the City Attorney’s Office regarding the rules and best practices associated with the Commission submitting ballot arguments regarding its measure. Staff will be meeting with these offices soon to gain additional clarity regarding this process.
The deadline for submitting ballot arguments for the March 5, 2024 election is December 14 and the deadline for submitting a rebuttal will be December 18. Staff anticipates providing draft arguments for the Commission’s consideration at the October meeting. Given the limited amount of time (four days) between the argument deadline and the rebuttal submission deadline, the Commission will likely need to delegate the submission of the rebuttal to a single commissioner, who can work with Staff to submit any potential rebuttal on behalf of the Commission.
Similar, but separate from the ballot argument process, the City’s Ballot Simplification Committee (BSC) will also be developing a summary (or “digest”) of the Commission’s measure. Past BSC digests are also included as part of Attachment 1. Staff will be able to attend future BSC meetings to answer questions and contribute to the summary developed. Staff has already reached out to the BSC regarding their timeline for the March 2024 election.
Development of Additional Regulations
At the August meeting, the Commission approved draft regulations for Sections 3.205 and 3.216 of the Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code, as they would be amended if the measure were to be approved the voters. When approved, it was specified that these regulations would only become operative when, and if, the ballot measure was approved by voters and operative. Between now and the potential operative date of the ballot measure, the Commission has the ability to consider additional regulations to help clarify and implement other sections of the Code that may be impacted by the ballot measure. These additional regulations can be approved with the same timing mechanism as the regulations for Sections 3.205 and 3.216 that the Commission has already approved.
Section 3.218 of the Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code currently sets forth rules regarding departmental Statements of Incompatible Activities (SIAs). The Ethics Commission’s 2024 ballot measure would amend Section 3.218 to eliminate departmental SIAs and move the rules from those SIAs into the amended Section 3.218. An excerpt from the Commission’s ballot measure regarding Section 3.218 has been provided as Attachment 2.
There are existing Ethics Commission regulations for Section 3.218, many of which would no longer be applicable if the ballot measure were to be enacted by voters. Given this, and the general importance of the rules in Section 3.218, Staff has identified the development of draft regulations for Section 3.218 as the most impactful section for additional Commission regulations.
In the coming months, Staff will work to develop initial regulation amendments for Section 3.218. These regulations will be presented to the Commission for discussion and consideration at a subsequent meeting. Interested persons meetings shall also be scheduled to provide the public with additional opportunities to discuss and contribute to the draft regulation amendments. These regulations may also be subject to meet and confer with City bargaining units. While some aspects of this process are outside of the Commission’s control, Staff is targeting that this process can be concluded and that the Commission would be able to vote on draft regulation amendments for Section 3.218 by January 2024.
Reminder on City Rules Regarding Political Activity
Considering it has been several years since the Commission last placed a measure on ballot, Staff wanted to publicly remind Commissioners, Staff, and the public of the rules that are in place regarding political activity by City officers and employees. Each election year, the City Attorney’s Office provides a memo regarding political activity, the most recent memo from 2022 has been provided as Attachment 3.
As described in the memo, officers and employees of the Ethics Commission are prohibited from using City resources to advocate for or against candidates or ballot measures, including the Commission’s 2024 ballot measure. However, City resources may be used to analyze and provide information to the public, regarding the proposed ballot measure, as long as the analysis is objective, avoids campaign slogans or other language typically associated with campaign literature, and does not urge a vote one way or another. Both the Ethics Commission and the department are prohibited from advocating for or endorsing ballot measures.
Additionally, the Ethics Commission Statement of Incompatible Activities has rules (in Section III.A.1.a-c) regarding political activity, which include prohibitions on officers and employees attending or participating in certain events, such as campaign events and candidate forums or debates, other than in their official capacities.
Staff and Deputy City Attorney Brad Russi will be available to answer questions about these rules during the meeting.
Recommended Next Steps
This item is provided as an informational update to the Commission and to provide a forum for any discussion or questions the Commission or the public may wish to engage in regarding the subject matter of this memo. No Commission action is needed at this time.
Attachment 3: City Attorney Memo on Political Activity – 2022