In early 2020, the former director of the Department of Public Works, Mohammed Nuru, was arrested with corruption allegations by the U.S. Attorney. That set off a chain reaction of contractors, department heads, and city officials also being indicted or resigning from their posts.
Through further investigations, we have discovered political cronyism and a lack of transparency have fostered a longtime pay-to-play culture in City Hall. It also explained why – with more than a $13 billion annual budget – the City just has not been able to deliver its promises for better government year after year: only the privileged few have access to city services while those who need the services the most are often shut out and priced out.
The best way to counter this corruption is to shine a bright light into all aspects of city government and reform city operations. We need to restore the public’s trust in city government by delivering quality and equitable city services, especially in restoring and pushing for reliable public transit, ensuring safety and clean streets on a daily basis and making sure we sustain the efforts to safeguard our residents from the detrimental impact of the pandemic. Our City must focus on recovering from the pandemic, and that makes the need for good government reform all the more urgent.
That’s why I have introduced anti-corruption legislation: the “Good and Clean Government” charter amendment will ensure greater accountability and transparency in all areas of city government in two key ways: by creating an independent City Administrator who can focus on delivering city services free from political cronyism, and by sharing appointments to chartered commissions between the executive and legislative branches.
The City Charter is the equivalent of the constitution of San Francisco. It regulates all aspects of city governance and administration. As such, it can only be amended by San Francisco voters. After an introduction, the Good and Clean Government charter amendment will be heard in committee in late January and must have majority support from the Board of Supervisors in order to be included on the June 2022 ballot.
The proposed measure establishes independence and accountability measures for the City Administrator’s Office (CAO) so that it can focus on delivering city services that are free from political cronyism. The measure helps center the functions of the CAO around delivering the basics of city services by providing quality public services, coordinating work between city departments and managing the city’s public assets. It also ensures that any additional functions can only be assigned through a public process and gives the CAO’s office authority to investigate complaints against city departments and department heads, and recommend their removal.
The measure will also bring transparency to the decision-making process and checks and balances on the City’s chartered commissions by ensuring that the public is well-represented and commissioners are accountable to the people. Chartered commissions are those that oversee city departments and have the authority to approve department budgets, review and approve contracts, and make personnel decisions.
Currently, commissioners are largely appointed by the mayor with little public process and are often limited to a small group of well-connected political insiders. Many of these commissioners serve the City with dedication and commitment, but the lack of checks and balances opens the door to corruption. Sharing the appointing authority of these commissions between the executive and legislative branches helps assure a balance of power on these important policy-making bodies. Lastly, this measure would also ensure all appointments are subject to a public process.
This is a critical time for our City as we recover from the pandemic, and we need to ensure our departments are focused on serving the needs of the City and its communities. A working system of checks and balances and functioning day-to-day city operations is the foundation of good and clean government. I look forward to bringing this to the voters in June 2022.
This article was published in the Richmond Review in January 2022.