City Attorney Dennis Herrera to S.F. Employees: No Campaigning on City Time

Whatever you do, don't say "I gave at the office..."
Dennis Herrera, who not long ago announced plans to move his operations down the hall from the city attorney's office to that of San Francisco mayor, has issued a warning to city workers feeling particularly enthusiastic about his or anyone else's candidacy. The message: Don't campaign using city time or resources.

Just as it's the city attorney's job to investigate allegations that city employees misused city resources to help their favorite candidate or ballot measure, he's burdened with the job of making sure employees understand what they can and cannot do when it comes to supporting favored office-seekers or propositions.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Dennis Herrera by Jim Herd.jpg
Jim Herd
Dennis Herrera says lay off the campaign photocopying at work, people
It was Herrera who investigated allegations in 2004 that gardeners working for a city-funded nonprofit served as on-the-clock precinct walkers for election campaigns of Gavin Newsom. And, presumably Herrera's office again would be tagged to follow up on any such complaints arising during the 2011 mayor's race.

In the interests of avoiding conflicts of interest that could arise in such a situation -- imagine Herrera being called to investigate city employees putting "Cesar Ascarrunz for Mayor" signs on city vehicles -- Herrera announced last month that he would farm out investigations of complaints involving breaches of campaign ethics.

Herrera spokesman Matt Dorsey notes that other agencies, such as the San Francisco District Attorney and the California Attorney General, are also authorized to investigate charges of political corruption.

But given the chiefs of those agencies are also campaigning for higher office, a clever Ascarrunz supporter might simply also plaster his city-owned vehicle with Steve Cooley and Meg Whitman stickers, thus parrying possible attention from henceforth conflicted Kamala Harris and Jerry Brown.

Simpler to avoid bad behavior from the get-go. So, as his office does every year, Herrera earlier this month erected the equivalent of extra large, flashing speed limit signs, designed to stop on-the-clock campaigners before they get too close to the office photocopy machine.

According to Herrera's lengthy memo issued Sept. 8,

Any use of City resources or City personnel for political activity is prohibited.
This ban prohibits any use of City e-mail, telephones, copiers, fax machines, computers, office supplies or any other City resources for political purposes. City personnel's time and attention may not be diverted from their City duties for political purposes. Addressing envelopes for campaign mailers, circulating ballot petitions, making campaign telephone calls, or engaging in similar types of campaign activity on City time or on non-public City property is prohibited.

Taking a cue from the Call and Response writing style of Wired editor  Bill Wasik's classic piece What Would Journey Do?, Herrera asks city workers to imagine themselves in the position of a conflicted technocrat who deeply loves his campaigning boss, yet at the same time doesn't want to get him in trouble.

What would Denny do? Sarah, a city employee, loves her boss so much she wishes there were more hours in the day with which to do things to please him. She learns he's running for office. Why not use her lunch hour to campaign for her boss?
Per Herrera's memo:

A City employee seeks endorsements for the employee's candidacy for a political party's central committee in the hallway of her City department's office.

However, Herrera says,

This activity violates the ban on political activity on City premises because it is being done inside City property that is not available to the general public for political purposes.

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