On Tuesday evening the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force took up an anonymous complaint against former Ethics Chair Mike Garcia and then-acting Executive Director Mabel Ng concerning inadequate noticing of the August 4, 2004, special Ethics Commission meeting that granted then Supervisor Tony Hall a post-employment waiver.
The Task Force found unanimously that there was a violation of noticing that rose to the level of referring the matter to a body with enforcement powers as specified in the Sunshine Ordinance. The panel generally makes such referrals to the Ethics Commission, but since Ethics was a party to the dispute, Sunshine took the unprecedented action of remanding the matter to the Board of Supervisors which is empowered to hear charges of Official Misconduct.
While Garcia and Ng were not explicitly named in the referral, Task Force member Doug Comstock commented "from my reading of the minutes, whether or not there was a willful violation, there certainly was a lot of will behind Ethics' actions leading up to the August 4th meeting." Task Force member David Parker stated that the Sunshine Task Force could not allow this improperly noticed, fast tracked "San Francisco political chess move" to go unchallenged.
As a Supervisor, Tony Hall lobbied hard to get his friend Garcia appointed to Ethics after Proposition E passed in November, 2001.
Rookie Executive Director of the Ethics Commission John St. Croix tried to downplay the violation, which occurred prior to his start date in August, 2004. But in so doing, he misled the Task Force as to the noticing lists used by Ethics and their deployment for this meeting. Sunshine requires that members of the press be informed of special meetings 72 hours in advance.
Ethics maintains a list of "interested persons" but did not differentiate press from the rest. St. Croix misled the Task Force by claiming that a press release list of media contacts that had since been converted to email was used to notify media. There is no evidence that staff had used the press release list to serve the function of an interested persons media notification list.
The timing of the meeting was critical, as it was within 48 hours of the filing deadline for supervisorial seats in the November, 2004 election. By granting then District 7 Supervisor Tony Hall a post-employment waiver to take a highly paid job as Executive Director of the Treasure Island Development Authority, the way was paved for Mayor Newsom to appoint a replacement.
Had that appointment been made on Sunday instead of Friday, then the filing deadline would have been extended by law until the following Wednesday to allow for additional candidates to mull entering a race with no incumbent as was the case in District 5 with the standing down of Matt Gonzalez.
But the fast track allowed Newsom to dub Sean Elsbernd as an "instant incumbent," which closed down access to potential District 7 candidates whose calculations might have changed with the situation.
In response to this and other troubling incidents during Mike Garcia's term on Ethics as the Board of Supervisors' appointee, he was not reappointed for a full term, the Supervisors opting for Eileen Hansen instead.
In a move that seems to close the loop on quid pro quo corruption, Mayor Newsom recently appointed Mike Garcia to a seat on the Board of Appeals, replacing recently deceased Kathleen Harrington, in what seems to be the commission version of a booby prize, although Appeals is an arguably more powerful body than Ethics.
Mabel Ng remains as Deputy Executive Director at Ethics. This is the second Sunshine violation in which she has had a hand, the prior being her role in ordering the destruction of a document mistakenly faxed to Ethics by Jim Sutton's law office indicating possible violations of campaign finance law on the part of Gavin Newsom's transition committee.
The document showed that former School Board member Heather Hiles was to be paid $20,000 for "services rendered." Hiles paid The Sutton Law Firm $1847.08 for legal and treasurer advice during that campaign where she spent more than $250,000 and came in out of the money.
As a freshly minted lawyer, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd clerked with the firm of Neilsen Merksamer, working closely with Jim Sutton. Ethics Commission records show that The Sutton Law Firm contributed the maximum of $500 to Elsbernd's November, 2004 election and that the "Sean Elsbernd for Supervisor" committee retained The Sutton Law Firm for $13879.75 inprofessional services.
The Board of Supervisors has 60 days to act on Garcia's appointment, voting it up or down with a simple majority, lest it be deemed approved automatically.