The Grid

Hallinan's Hot-Check Hassle
District Attorney Terence Hallinan keeps making headline hay out of his embezzlement investigation at the Juvenile Probation Department, posing behind a pile of evidence and telling reporters of new grand jury targets. But he didn't do a good job at keeping criminals away from his own office checkbook.

No illegality on the part of DA staffers, mind you. Just a bit of laxity -- made worse by what looked like a hush-hush effort.

Cut to July 27. A Sheriff's Work Alternatives Project (SWAP) participant -- one of the folks who perform tasks to pay their debt to society -- makes off with three checks from the DA's Environmental Trust Fund Account. The heist occurred during a big furniture reshuffle, where SWAP workers had been used instead of professional movers.

Two weeks later, a purloined check, written for $1,800, was deposited at an ATM in Hayward, but a smart bank worker intervened, calling the S.F. DA before completing the transaction. That call, to Debra Hayes, who heads up white-collar and environmental prosecution for Hallinan, kicked Hallinan's office quietly into action. (The DA was clueless about the checks until the call.)

S.F.'s DA investigator and Hayward police cracked the case, nailing SWAP ne'er-do-well Anthony Grooms, who remains in custody in Alameda County. "It was an embarrassing snafu," concedes David Millstein, Hallinan's chief assistant district attorney.

But in the eyes of Sheriff's Department officials, the episode doesn't end there. Nobody told them about the theft until 7:15 a.m. on Sept. 9, three days after "The Grid" placed calls on the matter to the DA and the sheriff.

"It's puzzling the DA's Office did not tell us about this until this morning," Eileen Hirst said Monday. "We'd like to have known about it as early as possible to prevent the suspect from being assigned to a similar work detail pending the outcome of the investigation."

And Hirst is none too happy about the theft in the first place. "It is the responsibility of the agency requesting use of SWAP workers to supervise them. SWAP workers are not supposed to be left alone," she says.

Willie's Love for Labor
Mayor Willie Brown is setting the city up to lose in negotiations with powerful municipal unions -- either by design or oversight.

Just look at whom Brown sent to the bargaining table in two important encounters with labor.

John O. Young, a lawyer for Brown's office, represented the mayor in late July in deliberations over a controversial labor-relations charter amendment that is headed for the November ballot.

Now, note: According to the state bar, Young's last legal job before joining the city was as a lawyer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1877 in San Jose. The SEIU is the biggest public-employee union in S.F. The annual cost of the amendment, which enhances retirement benefits, has been estimated at up to $100 million.

Young doesn't see a problem, because he wasn't in a traditional management role. "I wasn't negotiating with SEIU," says Young. "I was helping out and looking through proposals," which would be reviewed by the mayor.

Then this month, when it came to hammering out a contract with transit drivers, Brown sent Emilio Cruz, the Municipal Railway's top manager. Asking Cruz to negotiate with the drivers is akin to asking Police Chief Lau to bargain with the Police Officers Association. "You don't normally send a principal to the table," says a veteran of city labor talks. "They usually don't want to anger people."

The contract proposal, which Cruz signed off on last week, will hand the drivers a 4.7 percent pay increase, but is being criticized for failing to achieve any meaningful concessions on job performance.

Burma Basin
S.F. is about to learn the difficulty of keeping its largess away from companies doing business with the brutal military regime governing Burma (aka Myanmar).

S.F. already might need to scrap a $50 million radio technology procurement because the two remaining bidders do business in Burma and are thereby disqualified under city law from contracting with San Francisco (see "Rangoon Squad," Sept. 4). Now we learn the S.F. Giants have signed up Kajima International, a Japanese company with dealings in Burma, to manage construction of the new China Basin ballpark.

While the Giants aren't restricted under city law from cutting their own deals with businesses operating in Burma, consider:

S.F. voters gave the Giants a major break in March when they exempted the team from land-use restrictions on the waterfront. And the city is preparing to give the team a cut-rate lease on land to build its stadium.

All of which made the stadium, and Kajima's contract with the Giants, possible.

Family Values
Showing that charity does not necessarily begin at home, William J. "Pete" Knight, the Southern California Republican assemblyman who wrote the bill banning gay marriage, confirmed Sept. 9 that his son, David, is gay and that his brother, who died of AIDS in July, was also gay. "My family always knew [that my brother was gay]. We accepted it. We didn't talk much about it."

Pressed on his seeming contradictions, Knight said sexual orientation "is an individual decision. As long as they did their job and didn't flaunt it, it was OK. But now they are flaunting it and demanding we change policy to accommodate their lifestyle, and I object to that."

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