Ethics Commission Manages to Push Out Three-Time Whistleblower Oliver Luby

Categories: Government
Oliver Luby, the Ethics Commission's fines collection officer, once told us that he'd fine his own mother if he caught her bending the rules -- and he meant it. In some lines of work, that kind of commitment earns one a ticket straight to the top. In San Francisco -- and all too many other locales, sadly -- it gets you pushed out the door.

After nearly eight years as collection officer -- extracting funds from people who often enjoy showering money upon prominent San Francisco politicians but don't like paying fines for breaking the city's campaign laws -- Luby's last day will be next week. Last year, department managers removed a longstanding requirement for the position of fines collection officer requiring the holder of the job to have at least a year of campaign finance experience. Once that stipulation was discarded, it was a fait acompli that when a more senior civil servant was laid off, he or she would take Luby's job.

During the latest round of city layoffs and "bumping," that's just what happened. So now the city's new fines collection officer may have precious little campaign finance experience -- and Luby, a three-time whistleblower, is out. It's hard to imagine campaign scofflaws or Ethics Commission management being anything but pleased.

Our message for Ethics Commission Executive Director John St. Croix has not yet been returned.

On numerous occasions, Luby forced ethics to follow its own rules; he was the one who first noticed the financial irregularities that culminated in the City College scandal. It earned him respect outside his office and, it seems, enmity within. As we noted before:

In 2004, he exposed a document-destroying scheme and was subsequently honored by the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2008, he filed a complaint when it became apparent that large swaths of data would be lost if Ethics carried out a planned database switchover (the data was preserved). Then, in May of last year, he filed yet another whistleblower complaint: Luby says that despite his repeated warnings that Ethics was overcharging a candidate for fees he had already paid, a judgment against the candidate including the overcharges had been passed on to the city's collections department. (Luby told us that the overcharge was only enough for, a couple of drinks at a bar; this was something he says he did on principle). Luby's complaint to the District Attorney and controller quickly rectified the matter.

Roughly a week after filing the complaint, Luby received an official reprimand for using his office computer and e-mail to write to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission to offer his personal input on California campaign finance laws. This exact charge was then mirrored in a subsequent anonymous complaint, as was the threat of termination later echoed by [Deputy Director Mabel] Ng.

To be perfectly clear, an anonymous complaint parroted the exact charge leveled against Luby by his managers. Interesting. In any event, he was cleared.

We wish Luby the best of luck in whatever he does next. Hopefully his good deeds will go unpunished.

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