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City Officials Fail To Report Financial Interests

by Larry Bush on 09/10/2012

in Busted

City officials with a say over awarding hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts and monitoring over a billion dollars in spending from bond funds failed to comply with state laws requiring that they publicly disclosure their potential financial conflicts of interest months after the state deadline.

Among the officials who have not filed by the close of August, months after the April 1 filing deadline are:

  • Anita Greer, an elected member of the San Francisco Community College Board of Trustees
  • All three of the mayoral appointees to the Bond Oversight Committee in charge of reviewing expenditures and contracts for over a billion dollars
  • Three members of the Treasure Island Development Authority, including Claudine Cheng, the vice chair
  • Larry Martin, a member of the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission and longtime City Hall fixture
  • Two members of the city’s Rent Board that hears tenant-landlord issues names and  who they represent
  • Rebecca Prowda, a member of the Commission on the Status of Women who formerly worked in the mayor’s office and currently is the manager for corporate citizenship at Levi Strauss & Company.
A full list of NonFilers and Late Filers is available by clicking here.
The city’s Ethics Commission, responsible for ensuring compliance, will take no action, stating it lacks sufficient staff resources to even send a letter what kind of letter…notification letter? fine letter? to the scofflaw city officials.

“Due to insufficient staff resources no fines letters for late SEIs were sent last year or this year,” wrote Ethics Commission official Judy Chang on August 31 to CitiReport. Her message was copied to Ethics Executive Director John St. Croix and Ethics Deputy Director Mabel Ng.

Treasure Island Officials On NonFiler List

City officials who failed to file the required Statement of Economic Interests have a say on some of the most important decisions facing the city and on issues that affect the daily life of residents. The statements are required to ensure transparency and to reveal any potential conflicts of interest.

The often overlooked Treasure Island Development Board oversees one of the city’s last and most prime locations where billions of dollars in potential investments are under discussion.

Claudine Cheng, the  vice chair of the Treasure Island Development Authority Board, and members Jean-Paul Samaha and Mark Dunlop failed to file Statements of Economic Disclosure by the end of August, according to the Ethics Commission.

Mayor Lee, in an August 1 interview with Bloomberg news service, outlined prospects for a $1.7 billion loan package from the China Development Bank to jump start projects at Treasure Island and Hunters Point. The development rights were won by Lennar but it has been unable to muster the financing to begin work.

“We’re a couple of months away, “ Mayor Lee told Bloomberg. “This is very important to our city, and we’re not letting it go.”

The Chinese funding could help move forward on plans for 8,000 residences on Treasure Island, along with commercial buildings, job-training centers, parks, trails and open space, Lee said, according to the Bloomberg report.

One of those who have expressed a strong interest in a partnership with Chinese investors for Treasure Island and Hunters Point is Golden State Renaissance Ventures whose principals include former mayor Willie Brown.

Brown has long ties to Claudine Cheng, who states on her Claudine Cheng Consultants bio that she started her practice as “Of Counsel to the Law Offices of Willie L. Brown, Jr.”

Cheng promotes her consultant services by noting “Six degrees of separation – or has it become three?” by noting the connections between government, legal and community interests.

“It’s about the depth of experience and insight as well as having a strategic mind to put the pieces of the puzzle together,” she notes.

Cheng does not identify her clients in her disclosure forms, something that city rules permit her to omit.

Most recently, a hiccup in the Treasure Island process emerged when members of the Board asked for a briefing on reports that radioactive material remains on Treasure Island and might hinder full development as well as impact the residents.

Supervisor John Avalos made the request on September 5 for a briefing of the full board on potential contamination.

“I worry just with the word ‘potential” when it comes to radiation,” Avalos is quoted as saying in the San Francisco Examiner.

The request follows an August 6 Navy draft report identifying nine new areas “with a potential for radiological contamination, raising concerns about health risks for people on the island,” wrote the Examiner.

Bond Oversight Committee

All three of the mayor’s appointees to the Citizen Oversight of Bond Expenditures failed to file Statements of Economic Interest by the close of August. The nine-member committee operates out of the spotlight but was established by voters in 2002 to provide an “active review” of bond proceeds. Its scope was expanded to include serving as the City Services Auditor and to review complaints filed through the city’s Whistleblower program in a second ballot measure in 2003.

All six of the non-mayoral appointees have filed the required statements and met the deadline.

San Francisco voters are being asked to approve two bond measures in November, one for parks and the waterfront and one for the Community College.

Each requires a two-thirds vote and each faces some opposition based on concerns about the management of the agencies and handling of previous bond funds.

The Citizen Oversight committee has the key role in reviewing those earlier expenditures and providing a public report on how the funds were spent.

This includes the $185 million bond passed in 2008 which also aimed at meeting the city’s park needs, a $100 million bond also for park improvements, the just-approved $248 million bond for road repaving and sidewalk improvements, the $412 million bond for earthquake safety approved in 2010, and bonds for Laguna Honda replacement, branch libraries and bond proceeds of $887 million for a San Francisco General Hospital rebuild.

Hundreds of millions in funding remains to be awarded — $265 million for San Francisco General alone – while skeptics hint that pay-to-play politics have not been eliminated.

The watchdog and public reporting role could be particularly useful in allaying public fears about contract awards. Those fears got some traction earlier this year with the selection of Mohammed Nuru as DPW Director, despite an earlier city attorney investigation pointing to him for misusing city funds for political purposes, and the husband and wife team now named as Chief Administrative Officer and Public Utilities Commission Director overseeing billions in city contracts. Their proposed used of bond funds will come under the review of the Bond Oversight committee.

The three appointees, the only mayoral appointees on the committee, who have not filed disclosures of economic interests include Regina Callan, Corey Marshall and Rebecca Rhine. Marshall is SPUR’s “Good Government Policy Director,” Rhine heads the Municipal Executives Association and is filling a seat intended for a labor representative, and Regina Callan is a designer whose make-over of a laundry room was recently highlighted in Casasugar.com. She heads RBR Development that works on high-end residences, and is related to former mayor Newsom’s sister by marriage.

Two Dozen Agencies with Non-Filers

The Ethics Commission provided CitiReport with a list of over 30 city officials who failed to comply by the end of August with state and local law requiring public disclosure of their economic interest by April 2.

Another half dozen filed the mandatory reports a month or more late. In several cases, city officials never filed the disclosures. Under state law, late filers face up to $10 a day fine to a maximum of $100, but can also face prosecution up to $5,000.

The Commission files and posts the reports submitted, but does not issue a press release or otherwise identify nonfilers. The public can search for the information by searching the full database on the Ethics website to identify nonfilers.

In some cases, the state Fair Political Practices Commission stepped in where the city’s Ethics Commission did not. In October 2011, the FPPC fined Patricia Breslin $200 for failure to file after repeated reminders as a member of the city’s Rate Fairness Board that sets rates for commercial sewer and water connections. Breslin is the lobbyists for some of the city’s highest volume commercial water users.

City Officials face filing deadlines on three occasions – when assuming office, an annual filing for the prior calendar year due April 1, and a leaving office filing.

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