Guardian: Rule change for Mayor Ed Lee could expand beyond special case

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Rule change for Mayor Ed Lee could expand beyond special case

04.11.11 – 3:17 pm | Rebecca Bowe |

Last week, the Guardian reported on the Ethics Commission’s decision to waive two post-employment bans for city officials in order to allow mayoral staffer Kyri McClellan to take a job as executive director of the America’s Cup Organizing Committee, a role that will put her into direct contact with the same office she’s departing from as a representative of private-sector interests.

The April 11 Ethics Commission meeting will feature another discussion on whether to bend the rules on post-employment for city officials.

Shortly after former City Administrator Ed Lee was appointed as interim Mayor, Board President David Chiu introduced legislation that would modify post-employment restrictions to allow Lee to go back to his former job directly after serving out his mayoral term. Under the Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code, the mayor and members of the Board of Supervisors must wait a full year after serving office to obtain employment with the city. Unlike in McClellan’s case, this rule cannot be waived for an interim mayor, so the law must to be changed to include an exception to accommodate Lee in this special case.

As it stands, “This rule is designed to restrict these elected officials from using their influence to create golden parachutes as they leave office,” according to a memo issued by Ethics Commission Deputy Executive Director Mabel Ng.

Yet Ng’s memo proposes expanding the reach of the rule change, advocating for it to apply not only to an interim mayor but any appointed member of the Board of Supervisors who does not plan to seek office after filling out a term.

“If the commission approves this legislation, staff recommends that the Commission also extend the exception to a member of the Board of Supervisors in the same circumstances,” Ng’s memo notes. “Staff makes this recommendation because the same arguments supporting an exception for appointed mayors like Mayor Lee apply equally to appointed members of the board.”

Not so fast, says Jon Golinger of San Franciscans for Clean Government, who issued a press release warning of the possible rule change on April 11. While Lee’s case is rare indeed, supervisors are appointed to fill vacant seats far more frequently, Golinger pointed out. “It introduces a whole new level of uncertainty and political abuse,” he charged. “We don’t want our top officials playing games with public funds so that they can have a job with the city” after leaving office.

Golinger said his group thought the provision that would allow for Lee to resume his old post should include a sunset clause to make it a temporary change, since in his view, “there’s no reason that should be a permanent change.”

As for going a step further to include appointed members of the board, “It’s a major change,” Golinger said, “and it does raise the broader issue of whether Ethics Commission reform is needed.”

In order to be approved, the rule change would have to win at least four votes at the Ethics Commission and at least eight votes at the Board of Supervisors.

Ng’s memo noted that a representative of Chiu’s office would attend the April 11 meeting and respond to questions from staff about the proposed legislation to create an exemption from the post-employment ban for Lee. Reached by phone, Chiu’s legislative aide Judson True said his office had not yet formed an opinion on whether the rule change ought to be extended to the Board of Supervisors.


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