Did Entertainment Commissioner Break City Ethics Law? Former Board of Supervisors President Says Yes.

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Two members of the San Francisco Entertainment Commission are drawing fire from several sources -- including local Democratic Party Chairman and former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin -- for what critics say were ethically dubious efforts to influence the city's Small Business Commission on behalf of private consulting clients.


Audrey Joseph, the Entertainment Commission's former president, and Justin Roja, the current president, both appeared at the Small Business Commission's meeting on Monday, Aug. 10. Joseph was speaking on behalf of a business group hoping to open a nightclub on Powell Street, while Roja testified for a pet-food store that has hired his public-relations firm.

Peskin told SF Weekly that he thinks Joseph's appearance at the meeting was illegal. "This does not look good," he said. "Obviously, the Ethics Commission needs to investigate it. Based on her statements, and based on the law, this would appear to be a violation of the conflict-of-interest law that every commissioner and every elected official is supposed to adhere to."

The law in question is a section of the city's campaign and governmental conduct code barring elected officers or commission members from "directly or indirectly receiv(ing) any form of compensation to communicate orally, in writing, or in any other manner on behalf of any other person with any other officer or employee of the City and County with the intent to influence a government decision."

The San Francisco Chronicle reported today that an ethics complaint about Joseph's appearance at the meeting had been filed from a city resident, who was not named in the story. Ethics Commission Executive Director John St. Croix said he could not comment on Joseph's statements or confirm that a complaint had been received.

Joseph told SF Weekly that she was at the Small Business Commission to speak in favor of the project at 449 Powell St. -- for which she is being paid as a consultant on club design and operations -- as a private citizen. "It was completely innocuous," Joseph said. However, she added, "If I am incorrect -- and when I go to City Hall next I'm going to find out if I am -- then I deeply apologize that I have overstepped the bounds."

Roja said he appeared at the commission to read a letter on behalf of Pet Food Express written by his boss at Ground Floor Public Affairs. "No one else in our office had time," he said. "I wasn't trying to lobby or anything."

The Entertainment Commission, which is dominated by nightlife industry insiders, has been accused of conflicts of interest and bias that interfere with its mandate to regulate nightclubs. Joseph is a club consultant and former club owner, while Roja himself co-owns the nightclub 330 Ritch. Whatever fallout ensues from the latest controversy isn't likely to quiet questions about the Entertainment Commission's ethical caliber. 
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