Sloshing a Slush Fund
The Board of Supervisors spent $2.9 billion on the city last year, but they didn't forget their own needs, setting aside $62,377 in pin money for supervisors to cover "special" office expenses. The Transportation Authority extended another $15,600 for the supervisors (at $1,200 each) to spend in their capacity as Transportation Commissioners, and Supervisors Angela Alioto and Kevin Shelley each received an extra $2,500 in office costs to defray any additional expenses that come with serving as board president.
The good news is that only a handful of the supes drew down their accounts to zip, zero, zilch -- and that most actually spent the funds for such expenses as computers, printers, and other conveniences of the world of work. According to an official tally released last week, $47,334 of the money was spent.
Supervisor Tom Hsieh demonstrated why he should continue to serve as the board's Budget Committee chair. He spent less taxpayer funds for his office costs than any other supervisor -- returning $3,345.11 to the general fund. "He's been here the longest and doesn't need so many new things," explains one Board of Supervisors clerk charged with handling the accounts.
According to records -- which have yet to tally a few dribs and drabs in midnight-madness spending -- Supervisors Sue Bierman and Susan Leal also managed to leave nearly half of their pin money in the city's cash drawer.
Supervisor Willie Kennedy, however, broke the bank -- not only spending all $5,000 allotted to her for individual office expenses, but also convincing Hsieh to fork over $400 of his account to allow her to continue her free-spending ways. Kennedy was a prodigious traveler (all within the continental U.S.A., however), including officially paid trips to Las Vegas, San Antonio, Washington, D.C., and Sacramento.
Kennedy spent several hundred dollars on a new sofa for her office, Supervisor Barbara "Consumer Advocate" Kaufman spent almost all of her funds on new office furniture and express mail service (including one package to a political campaign consultant's office), and Supervisor Carole Migden dropped $1,026.52 on photographs that were installed in glass frames and hung in her office.
Nearly spending herself into red ink was Supervisor Angela Alioto, who dunned the city $1,150 for her round-trip ticket to Taipei last October, a trip she took with her boyfriend, Sergio Lazzara; Francisco Hsieh (no relation to Tom Hsieh); and Chinese community representatives.
Alioto's Taipei trip was billed as an official visit by the president of the board to a San Francisco sister city, but it is unusual -- if not precedent-setting -- for city tax dollars to be spent defraying the costs of a foreign visit. Traditionally, city officials -- including mayors -- do not bill taxpayers for any portion of overseas junkets, no matter how worthy they believe them to be. Mayor Frank Jordan, no stranger to foreign ports of call during his tenure, usually has his expenses paid by a sister city committee, a special Asia Fund established by former Mayor Art Agnos, or various foreign hosts.
But since Lazzara and Hsieh were listed by Alioto as consultants in her mayoral campaign at the time of the trip, what were these hired political hands doing accompanying Alioto on a goodwill trip? Campaign finance records show that during the last half of 1994, when the trip was taken, Hsieh was paid $1,882 by the Alioto '95 Committee and Lazzara was paid $8,265 (including $1,111 in travel expenses).
Alioto's itinerary included a meeting with Evergreen shipping company, which had just abandoned its longtime contract with San Francisco's port in favor of a new deal with Oakland.
At one time, Supervisor Kevin Shelley was listed as a member of the Alioto party, but he dropped out of the trip because he was in the midst of campaigning for re-election.
Elected officials must also list in their annual Statements of Economic Interests any gifts valued at $50 or more that they receive during the course of the year -- including gifts of lodging, transportation, and meals. In addition, the state law forbids local elected officials from accepting any gift valued at more than $1,000. Jordan, Agnos, and past mayors regularly listed gifts of hotel rooms, cars, and meals on their annual economic statements.
Alioto's filings, however, fail to include any expenses picked up by any source in Taipei. Not that Alioto didn't notice the page of her economic statement report that required the listing of gifts. She reports two gifts: $89.99 in a San Francisco Giants souvenir and a "crown" valued at $60 presented by a "Republic of Korea government entity."
We don't know if Alioto got any gifts in Taiwan, but according to records kept by the clerk of the Board of Supervisors, Alioto received a written offer on behalf of the Taipei City Council that it would pick up the costs for her and her troupe.
"As a courtesy, the Taipei City Council would like to offer to cover accommodation and meal costs in Taiwan for yourself and a delegation of 4 others ...," wrote Jyh-yuan Lo, director general of the Coordination Council for North American Affairs, in a Sept. 14, 1994, letter to Alioto.
"The City Council will also cover local transportation costs in Taipei for all members of the group from San Francisco," wrote Lo. "Your visit will be of great symbolic importance."