Last month, SF Weekly revealed how the No. 2 man in the assessor's office overruled a colleague's objections to a controversial procedure, saving a politically plugged-in homeowner thousands of dollars. Chief Appraiser Matt Thomas' written excuse for his actions: "This came from above."
As a result of the cancellation and subsequent reissuing of an identical bill, Ahsha Safai, a former supervisorial candidate, was spared having to shell out $10,000 in property taxes and instead qualified for a five-year, interest-free payment plan. In a July 15, 2010, e-mail, veteran Assessor Michael Jine objected to Thomas' efforts to make him cancel and reissue Safai's bill, stating "I am very uncomfortable with what you are asking me to do." Jine continued that "attempting to manipulate the collection process ... so the taxpayer can apply for a payment plan sets a very bad precedent."
This response shouldn't have been a surprise. E-mails subsequently obtained by SF Weekly show that Kevin Alin, then Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting's assistant, queried the office of the tax collector about Safai's eligibility. Francis Nguyen, then the official responsible for overseeing the plan — and the person to ask if a taxpayer was eligible — responded with an unambiguous no.
That correspondence took place on July 12, 2010. Only two days later, Thomas would write to Jine and ask him to undertake the procedure Nguyen unequivocally stated should not be done. After being rebuffed by Jine, Thomas executed the procedure himself — and also knocked $400,000 off the taxable value of Safai's home.
Both Safai and Ting told SF Weekly they did not converse regarding this matter and denied that anyone asked for or received special treatment. When asked to explain what he meant by "this came from above," Thomas said it could refer to "most any constituent" before reconsidering and stating, "Thinking back, it was not a direct reference to any one person in particular." Reached in his current post as a school administrator in Cleveland, Ohio, Alin said his old boss Ting never asked him to do anything objectionable.
After SF Weekly's original story ran, multiple employees in the assessor's office received letters noting "The Office of the Assessor-Recorder has asked the San Francisco City Attorney's Office to investigate work-related issues at the Office of the Assessor-Recorder." Recipients of the letters were "hereby directed" to meet with a City Attorney investigator at a future date — an appointment to which "you may bring a representative."
The City Attorney's office refused to comment on the matter. The assessor's office referred questions to the City Attorney's office. So it is unknown whether the investigation is centered around the questionable transaction — or is meant to punish those who allowed the documentation proving it took place to become public knowledge.