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It's the Law ... Sort Of 

Mayor, Supes won't follow law they approved. Ethics Commission won't enforce it.

Wednesday, Mar 25 2009

If few of the elected officials who signed a law into existence can be bothered to follow it, and the government commission charged with implementing that law opts not to enforce it — well, what does that say? It says this is how we roll here in San Francisco.

In 2006, the Ethics Commission's staff devised an ordinance calling for elected officials voting on city contracts of $50,000 or greater to report that fact to the commission no later than five days after the vote. This rule was meant to spot "pay-to-play," where those awarded contracts would, in turn, donate to the officials who made those decisions. The Board of Supervisors approved the ordinance by a 10-0 vote; six of those supervisors are still on the board. Then, last year, Mayor Gavin Newsom placed Measure H on the ballot, which essentially affirmed and expanded the ordinance. It was overwhelmingly approved by voters.

So it may come as a bit of a surprise that, while scads of contracts exceeding $50,000 have been approved by the mayor's office and Board of Supes, neither has ever made the mandatory filings to the Ethics Commission.

But no one is in trouble. The commission has never bothered to enforce this section of the ordinance. Executive director John St. Croix told SF Weekly he hasn't enforced it since last fall, "unofficially," but went "on record" with a Dec. 31 letter sent to dozens of city elected officials telling them not to bother making their filings — which many weren't doing anyway. He said the law was cumbersome and unenforceable. This may be true — but it's still an odd thing for him to say, considering the ordinance was generated by his own staff before being affirmed by the supes and 61 percent of city voters. When asked how we know elected officials aren't engaging in pay-to-play scams the ordinance was meant to ferret out, St. Croix replied, "I'm not sure we do."

St. Croix' decision not to enforce the law comes as news to the public — the ordinance is still listed in the "pertinent local laws" section of the commission's Web site. It also was not announced to the members of the Ethics Commission. Commissioner Eileen Hansen told SF Weekly she didn't hear about it until St. Croix mentioned it at a mid-February meeting — a month and a half after he sent his letter to elected officials.

In the past three years, only the city attorney, district attorney, treasurer, and sheriff have ever bothered to follow the rules and make their filings. And, despite St. Croix' insistence that it's no longer necessary, city attorney spokesman Matt Dorsey said his office will continue to report its contracts. After all, it's the law.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" is a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly, which he has written for since 2007. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers... more


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