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Paper Trails 

Wednesday, May 17 1995
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Big Chiefs
Asked if Mayor Frank Jordan has an opinion on the efforts of his police chief and fire chief to obtain huge raises, Jordan's press office curtly answers: "He doesn't have a position on the police and fire chiefs issue."

Wrong.
Mayor Jordan's position can best be described as supine (with hand extended). Jordan could ask his political appointees to forgo a lawsuit that will raise their compensation by $27,000. But he won't for reasons of self-interest: The raise will incidentally increase Jordan's own pension by about $10,000 a year for the rest of his life.

Fighting the raise to a standstill last week was Supervisor Tom Ammiano, and his opposition is likely to provoke a lawsuit from the chiefs' representatives. But how did we arrive at this state of affairs where the supes are facing off against the chiefs and the whole mess is going to court?

I'm so glad you asked.
The chiefs claim that -- by tradition -- they always make a bundle more money than the next highest rank. How much is a bundle? Twice as much as any other city department head, who generally are kept to about a 5 percent difference between their pay and the next lowest rank.

In fact, the raises would make Police Chief Anthony Ribera and Fire Chief Joseph Medina the highest paid city bureaucrats at $136,942 per annum. Indeed, San Francisco's chiefs already rank No. 2 in the nation for pay, according to a survey of 46 cities performed by the city of Phoenix.

The lower ranks in the Police and Fire Departments received hikes in pay and benefits beginning three years ago.

But who negotiated the big 1992 rank-and-file raises that pushed the pay envelope for the chiefs? Capt. Anthony Ribera, then the head of the department's fiscal branch.

Ribera, who added a fourth star to his collar because he wasn't satisfied with the three-star designation of all previous chiefs, is a former Police Officers Association (POA) executive committee member. The "negotiations" in which he participated as a police captain consisted of rubber-stamping the POA's proposal. Naturally, the contract he "negotiated" included raises for captains.

"We accepted those figures," says Carl Bunch, a deputy city attorney who represented Jordan's office at the time. "It's quite true that the city did not do an independent survey."

The firefighters then got the same deal as the cops, although a new collective bargaining system allowed the city to make a separate bargain. As a result of the "parity" with police pay, San Francisco firefighters already had the highest pay and lowest hours of any firefighters in the state. The "negotiations" just gave them more.

"I was really naive about this, but I knew the firefighters were a very early supporter of Mayor Jordan," says Bunch. "So when we did the police negotiations, it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure the firefighters would be the same."

If the little fellas were getting more lunch money, the Big Men assumed they deserved Big Cigars. "Deserved" is a funny word, though, because it suggests a concept called "pay for performance." And, by odd coincidence, the "pay for performance" concept was originally in the city's salary talks with the police and fire chiefs.

"It fell by the wayside," Bunch says. "I do believe there was some early-on discussion about pay for performance. I'm inclined to think we really didn't address it in negotiations."

A lucky thing, too, for the fire chief. Consider this excerpt from a new report from the federal court special master, which was released the same week as the pay hike went to the supes.

"The management of the department is founded on finger-pointing rather than responsibility for its commitment. It assigned the blame to everyone but itself. ... This reflects a serious absence of leadership," the report states.

"The Chief disregards the orders of the Commission with impunity. This sends a message to all members of the department that management does not take seriously its commitment to maintain a workplace free of discrimination and harassment. When confronted with the need to change the system, the Commission and the Chief respond with delay, evasion and even outright misrepresentation," the report continues.

The report's conclusion: The federal court should order the Fire Department to hire outside skilled managers and then obey their advice.

The court's advice is not just so much verbiage from just another government report. A week ago, Lt. Ann Young won a $300,000 judgment (legal fees may cost the city an additional $400,000) against Fire Chief Medina and the commission for failing to act on complaints of discrimination against her.

There is no similarly independent report on Police Chief Ribera's performance, but increased city costs due to poor management are easily documented. In one legal case, the SFPD faces a legal damages bill of nearly $300,000 because police officers helped a stalker track his victim. He found an ally -- or allies -- in the Police Department who used police computers to track changes of address on the victim's driver's license. Ribera claims he can't uncover the rogue cops.

Ribera also has failed to fix the troubled 911 crisis line that alerts police, fire stations and paramedics to emergencies. Last month, he dispatched a deputy to tell the supes that he had failed to fill the critical civilian director's job for nearly two years because the pay of $72,000 was too low to attract candidates and there wasn't money to increase the position's salary.

But when it came time to certify that the Police Department was flush enough to increase Ribera's salary, there was plenty of money.

"... the Police Department will be able to absorb the cost ... in its existing budget," the department told the supes.

"Classic," says Supervisor Kevin Shelley, who for three years has led the fight for 911 efficiency.

Negotiators from the Municipal Executives Association (MEA), who represent the chiefs, say they're likely go to court to win the pay hikes the supes just turned down.

That two of Jordan's own key political appointees are ready to sue because they're not paid enough is ridiculous, but even the MEA knows that a line has to be drawn.

"We will make a decision as to what level we'll support them," says MEA's John Bushel. "I'm not saying we'll pick up the whole tab."

Meanwhile, the city's "opposition party," the Republicans, are preparing a ballot measure to cut costs -- not police or fire, but Muni. Maybe they remember that both chiefs are registered Republicans and won't savage their own. The Chamber of Commerce has been silent on the big brasses' raises, too, but sent its chairman to the Board of Supervisors to testify against pay hikes for clerks and janitors last year.

The Wunderman Tax
Mayor Jordan will be pouncing on tax revenue like a pheasant on a June bug until June 1, because that's his deadline to produce a balanced budget -- in an election year, Hizzoner won't want to anger voters and contributors with any talk about tax increases.

But as long as Jordan is turning over the sofa cushions in search of revenue, he might pause to ask Chief of Staff Jim Wunderman if Wunderman's consulting firm ever paid its business tax fees to the city.

According to a new report by the Board of Supervisors' budget analyst, as much as $6 million may have gone unpaid to the city from small firms and sole proprietorships since March 1992 -- firms and proprietorships like Wunderman Associates.

Analyst Deborah Newman says "we just don't know" how much is owed by small businesses that registered once but never sent in their bills after an initial payment.

According to City Hall records, the chief of staff registered his consulting firm of Wunderman Associates with both the tax collector and the county recorder in March 1992. The records show that Wunderman never closed the business, and that he would owe a fee based on earnings for each of the past three years. (If he had no earnings, he would still owe a nominal sum.) Tax bills are confidential, but City Hall sources indicate Wunderman is one of those who didn't pay -- even during a period when he actually did earn an income from his business.

Is Wunderman a phantom or a scofflaw? Or both?
Wunderman says, "I think I'm out of business. I can't remember if I did or didn't" terminate the business. "Maybe that's why Harvey Rose thinks there are so many businesses that owe the city money."

Wunderman thinks he paid city fees for the years he did operate: "I think I remember paying a partial one and then a full one."

Wunderman's client list, reported when appointed Jordan's aide in 1993, suggests that he could have named his business "Jim's Juice Joint." Many Wunderman clients continued to receive excellent service after he joined the government.

Wunderman clients included the San Francisco Independent, which won Jordan's support last year for a new law that gives the paper the city contract for public notices no matter how much it charges the city.

Others include the nonunion Kimco Hotels, which retained Wunderman to develop a "Business Improvement District" that allows commercial districts to tax themselves for improvements and keep all the money themselves. Jordan signed a new law to do exactly that last week.

Wunderman also provided political management for Willie Kennedy's 1992 supervisorial campaign. She has been one of Jordan's (and Wunderman's) most consistent votes on the board. According to campaign finance records, Kennedy owed Wunderman $10,000 from the campaign.

Not all former Wunderman clients are thriving. During this same period, Jimbo served as an unpaid board member for the Institute for Contemporary Studies (ICS), a conservative think tank that is linked to Jack Kemp and his housing policies. Wunderman convinced Jordan to tap fellow ICS board member Karen Huggins for the Housing Commission. This week, Wunderman is one of the members of the Jordan administration aiming to remove her from office with an official trial for misconduct.

Got a tip for Paper Trails? Fax it to 777-1839 or e-mail it to sfwtrail@aol.com.

About The Author

Larry Bush

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