Mayor, Supes Flout the Law -- But That's Okay. Ethics Commission Won't Enforce It.

Categories: Government
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If none of the elected officials who voted a law into existence can be bothered to follow it, and the government commission charged with implementing it opts to not enforce it (even after the law is approved by voters) -- well, what does that say? It says it's just another working day here in San Francisco.

In 2006, the Ethics Commission's staff devised an ordinance calling for elected officials who vote upon city contracts of $50,000 or greater to report this within five days to the commission; this rule was meant to spot any "pay for play" where those awarded contracts would, in turn, donate to the elected officials making those decisions. The Board of Supervisors approved the ordinance by a 10-0 vote; six of those Supes are still on the board. Then, last year, Mayor Gavin Newsom placed Measure H on the ballot. This initiative, which essentially affirmed and expanded the ordinance, was overwhelmingly approved.

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 Supes, neither has ever made the mandatory filings to the Ethics Commission.

But that's okay. The Ethics 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 virtually none of them were doing anyway. St. Croix said the law was cumbersome and unenforceable. In this he may be correct -- but it's still a curious accusation considering it was generated by his own staff before being affirmed by the Supes and 61 percent of the city's voters.

When asked how we know elected officials aren't engaging in pay-to-play scams the ordinance was meant to ferret out, he replied, "I'm not sure we do."

St. Croix's decision to not enforce the law comes as news to the general public -- the ordinance is still listed in the "pertinent local laws" section of Ethics' 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 this until St. Croix mentioned it at a mid-February meeting -- a month and a half after he sent his letter to elected officials. She holds out little hope the Commission will even be able to discuss this matter -- let alone resolve it -- before May.

In the past three years, only the City Attorney, District Attorney, Treasurer, and Sheriff have ever bothered to follow the law and make their filings. And, despite St. Croix's insistence it's no longer necessary, City Attorney spokesman Matt Dorsey said his office will continue to do so. After all - it's the law.


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