Do Nonexistent City Officials File Imaginary Paperwork?
Image courtesy of The Flanders Group
Why had so few city officers and employees filed necessary forms? In part it’s because the people didn’t quite exist.
By Joe Eskenazi
Just a couple of weeks ago, John St. Croix thought he had a minor calamity on his hands. As of Aug. 13, the executive director of San Francisco’s ethics commission counted 81 city officers or employees who had failed to file their Statements of Economic Interest. Those were due on April 1, incidentally, and 81 non-filers means around one of every eight city officials was a delinquent.
An SEI, incidentally, is a financial statement filled out by a city official that allows members of the public to determine if a conflict of interest exists with the officials’ city duties. If, for example, a member of the Zoning Board owned real estate and stood to gain from a board ruling, that’s the sort of thing that would show up on an SEI.
Flouting of economic disclosure laws is hardly tantamount to the sort of government corruption one might uncover in, say, Islamabad. But, considering that, nine years ago, San Francisco achieved a perfect 100 percent filing rate, it’s somewhat alarming.
Yet, after a closer look, St. Croix found what was truly alarming was the state of the city’s record-keeping.
Of the 81 scofflaws, around 10 turned out to be people who were no longer on city commissions. What’s more, two whole commissions stocked with supposedly indignant non-filers turned out to no longer exist. So, as of this week, 31 city officials were still on the delinquent list (which you can check here).
Yet, even with the 50 ethereal non-filers eliminated, 31 delinquents sounds high to Joe Lynn. That’s because nine years ago, he was the SEI filing officer for the Ethics Commission on their 1972 Miami Dolphins-like perfect season.
When asked to disclose how he helped to gather every last SEI, his answer is far from complex – he was a pain in the ass.
“The key to our success was making phone calls to the missing filers. A lot of them found the disclosures invasive of their privacy. For these people, you had to explain the public’s right to know,” he said. “Others were just deadbeats and found my persistent calling more trouble than not filing.”
The year after the city’s 100 percent filing season, a solitary delinquent ruined the streak. But that guy was in jail, noted Lynn, so you can’t blame him for missing the deadline.
St. Croix said that phone calls are still made to late filers, though he admitted it’s sometimes hard to come up with their home phone numbers. Glancing through the list of non-filers, many of the problems come in blocks: Nine members of the Board of Examiners are delinquents as are five people on the Community Choice Aggregation and four members of the Golden Gate Park Concourse Authority. St. Croix recognizes many of the names as late-filers from years past.
All of these late-filers face a $100 fine – and any mayoral appointments will not be re-upped without filing (this happened six times last year; “That got them to file pretty quickly,” said St. Croix with a laugh).
The Ethics Commission is due an increase in staff come October, and St. Croix plans to put the newbies on the phone calling SEI deadbeats. He also plans on making personal appearances at several commission meetings (the Board of Examiners is a good bet) and “calling people onto the carpet.”
He might want to get a good look at the commissioners at those meetings. You know, to make sure they really exist.