There would be nothing wrong with McInerney holding dual professional posts -- if he did not hold a third, governmental position that involves the public trust.
So far, McInerney has tried to insulate his duties for the public from his private, moneymaking efforts by recusing himself from hearings and votes that involve the law firm with which he is affiliated.
Those recusals impress me not at all.
Of the five commissioners on the Board of Appeals, McInerney is far and away the brightest and most dynamic. He is the only one who knows much about real estate investment and permit law. The other four members of the Board of Appeals are a family law attorney, an employment attorney, a pub owner, and a public relations consultant and college student. They are said to follow McInerney's lead on a regular basis. Is it really merely happenstance that Reuben & Alter clients are batting 1.000 at the Board of Appeals, even without McInerney's vote?
McInerney swears he is not the kind of man to work behind the scenes to get fellow commissioners to vote on behalf of the firm.
"I'm a fifth-generation San Franciscan," McInerney told me with indignation when I asked him if he lobbied his fellow commissioners on Reuben & Alter cases. "I am Jesuit educated. I do legal work for Jesuit institutions. I have very high moral values. I was the partner in one of the biggest law firms in the United States. You just don't behave that way."
McInerney has enunciated what I call the Establishment Defense: I am a member of the establishment, so you will naturally trust me when I say I am steadfast and true.
I am not trying to be cute or funny here. Neither am I calling Mr. McInerney a liar.
I'm making a more pedestrian point: McInerney and the man who appointed him, Mayor Brown, are asking the public to engage in an act of faith regarding McInerney and his apparent conflicts of interest.
Now, John McInerney could be worthy of faith. But faith, if a reliable staple of Jesuit-trained lawyers, ought not be required of taxpayers when they look upon their government.
We should not have to contort ourselves into a position of trust in our government officials. It's the job of public officials to earn that trust, not ask us to overlook suspicious appearances in order to reach it.
Just ask yourself: Why did McInerney have to link himself with Reuben & Alter? He knew they would appear before him regularly when he became "of counsel" to the firm. Hell, James Reuben was lobbying McInerney, as a public official, while talking to him about lending his name to the firm.
Is there a shortage of law firms in San Francisco that don't lobby the Board of Appeals on a regular basis? Of course not.
So when you ask the obvious questions, you wind up asking more.
Should we believe McInerney when he says he doesn't lobby his fellow commissioners on Reuben & Alter items he has recused himself from? Isn't it at least as reasonable to suspect that John McInerney lent Reuben & Alter his name so the firm could solicit clients with the argument that it had a man on the Board of Appeals? It would certainly be an effective way of attracting business, and money, to the firm. Wouldn't it?
No amount of special pleading by McInerney or his fellow commissioners will dissuade a reasonable mind from wondering about this situation. Unless you accept the honesty of John McInerney and James Reuben as a matter of faith, it is impossible to know exactly what has been going on here -- unless, of course, McInerney, Reuben, and their clients agree to let me tiptoe through their financial documents and legal contracts, which I don't think they will anytime soon.
So the questions just keep coming.
Of course, you could just ask yourself to trust John McInerney, and be done with it.
But you shouldn't ask that, because you shouldn't have to.
This isn't church, folks. It's City Hall, and honest government isn't something we ought to have to pray for.