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We Thought You Would Never Ask

by Larry Bush on 04/20/2011

in Merely Rumors

Yes, Dear Readers, we have answers to questions you never asked. In fact, you may never have wondered about at all.

But why let that stop us?

So here is our first edition of Questions You Never Asked.

Number One: All is Good Now at the Ethics Commission with the Board’s New Appointee?

If you mean that all is exactly the same with no energy for ethics, then, yes, all is just as good as it was before.

So on April 21, the commission staff is having what they call an “Interested Persons” meeting with the clear hope that not too many people will be interested.

The meeting is set for 1 p.m., perfect for lobbyists and impossible for the general public, including the folks who are the volunteer backbone of political groups affected by the Ethics Commission rules.

What’s on the agenda?

For starters, a proposal to actually reduce public information on campaign spending and contributions in the weeks before the election. Instead of the 24-hour notice when there is significant money matters, the commission staff suggests just letting the public know about it on Mondays and Wednesdays. Let’s see, instead of seven days, that’s two days.

The reason, one surmises (since Ethics doesn’t explain its reasons) is because it will be easier on staff — not to mention those campaigns that like to wipe the plate clean. Oh yes, it would take effect in time for the November election for mayor, DA, sheriff, etc.

The commission would also like to raise the amount of money an individual can contribute in an election. They don’t say how much they would like to raise it, but whatever. The limit now is $500.

Third, they want a rule that says candidate spending shouldn’t include the costs of complying with the rules. Hmmm.

CitiReport can’t tell you exactly what the amendments state, although the Ethics Commission announced on its web site that it would have draft language in advance of the meeting.

When CitiReport called, noting that no draft language was available, Ethics Commission Deputy Director Mabel Ng said “we all that is going on, we’ve just been too busy to draft the language.” So is the meeting still on? Don’t be silly. Why would you need to know in advance what rules they want to change and how they want to change them.

Of course, as Ng admitted to CitiReport, some of this already had been discussed with the lobbyist for the Committee on Jobs.

As for City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office? They say that Ethics can decide to hold the meeting without providing the advance draft language or not, and for good measure, state that Ethics has the right to meet with the Committee on Jobs or anyone else about these policies.

We knew that, thanks very much.

So, the answer is, all is good as it has ever been over at Ethics.

Number Two: What gives with the Botanical Garden?

And the answer is, not much when it comes to the Botanical Garden Society opening up its wallet. The Board of Supervisors engaged in a little arm wrestling the other day over whether to continue charging non-residents $7 to enter the San Francisco Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park. It is a remarkably beautiful spot, but if you live in the City, you’d better have your ID with you (not the driver’s license from Iowa that you never updated now that you live in California) or be prepared to pay actual cash to get in to smell the flowers.

Understandable, right? After all, we’ve seen how the budget situation looks like Pauline tied to the tracks by Snidely Whiplash with the train coming. So if the fee can pay for three gardeners, as the Recreation and Parks Department estimates, we’re all better off charging the auslanders. Even if they are our own cops who live in Santa Rosa. (Nevermind. That was irrelevant).

In point of fact, this arrangement is a contract between the city’s Recreation and Park Department and the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society, which will receive just over $200,000, to pay for 4.6 full time positions to administer the fee. The city will get about $337,000 plus change.

But CitiReport’s mandate to make suspect the motives of even sweet senior citizens devoted to gardens and flowers led us to look up information on the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society.

We might not have bothered if the Board Budget Analyst hadn’t pointed out that the Recreation and Park Department’s agreements with the society were all verbal, and suggested that it might be more business-like to put them down on paper (hello, Chamber of Commerce Vice President Jim Lazarus who is a Rec and Park commission official, and defender of the new fee, are you hearing the phrase “business-like?”)

Hmmm.  It looks from the group’s federal tax filings that they, at least, know how to operate as a business.

This year they will operate with just over $4 million, up from just under a little more than $3.4 million last year.  Their expenses are reported at $2.5 million. Some $1.35 million of that goes to salaries.

Their total assets grew like weeds, up from $7.55 million last year to $8.47 million this year.

The Botanical Garden Society lists its purpose as related to the Botanical Garden and Styrbing Arboretum. The ended the year with just over $1 million left after expenses.

So does this mean they could have underwritten as a nonprofit, the cost of letting non-residents enjoy the garden? Maybe. After all, that’s what they raise money to do (and teach classes and operate a shop, among other things).

Clearly they make the city a better place. And, looking at their operation, they may also know more about what they are doing than our Recreation and Park Department does.

And they also know how to work the city. The Ethics Commission records show that in the first three months of this year, the Botanical Society spent $22,500 for lobbying the city. Apparently money well spent.

So glad you asked.

Number Three: What Leadership Change is coming to the Police Department?

Easy one, you think. The Mayor is pondering a list of candidates to serve as Police Chief.

Not so fast.

Really not so fast.

Mayor Ed Lee now is meeting with some of the police officers who felt the Police Commission process wasn’t all that. In one hour-long meeting, Mayor Lee got a detailed if not exhaustive run-down on what was perceived to be an inside game at the Police Commission that shut out worthy candidates.

As is his practice, Mayor Lee didn’t signal whether this is moving him to reach for the “re-set” button, but he hasn’t exactly shown any inclination to move forward with the list he has now. Plus, the San Francisco Chronicle editorializes that the Mayor should simply keep the Acting Chief in a, well, acting capacity and forego naming a chief who could be turned out by the next mayor.

In a late Wednesday report, the SFAppeal noted that Mayor Lee now says he will choose someone from the Commission’s list and will do so in a week. Good idea to check to see who Willie Brown is having dinner with this week.

But change, it is a’ coming. It appears that Police Commissioner Jim Hammer will step off the commission at the month’s end, when the appointment originally filled by Theresa Sparks concludes.

Hammer, who has served since November 2009, is one of the appointees from the Board of Supervisors. It now appears that the Board now in office wants someone else in that seat.

One consideration is that Hammer is the only openly gay member of the Commission, and the history of the LGBT community and the city’s police department has not always been rosy and cozy. There has been at least one member of the LGBT community on the Commission since the days of former Mayor Dianne Feinstein.

The betting money is that it will be a candidate that is politically allied with state senator Mark Leno and possibly the Alice Toklas Club. While Assemblyman Tom Ammiano actually has a background in addressing police issues, including discipline, his brand of progressive politics isn’t received with enthusiasm by the current Board.






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