As taxpayer costs related to Super Bowl City continue to increase, we learn today that at least one city department is working hard to keep expenses off the books. SFMTA officials, it seems, have asked employees to "volunteer" as "ambassadors" for Super Bowl City. This "volunteering" would be done during work hours, on the clock, and the employees would be paid by SFMTA. Costs associated with this volunteer work are not included in city officials' $5.3 million (and growing) estimated bill to taxpayers for Super Bowl 50 celebrations, however, allowing overall costs to appear lower than they really are.
So reports the Examiner, who uncovered emails via a public records request detailing the agency's plans.
While it is not clear exactly how many employees were asked to volunteer, an email obtained by the Examiner written by Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin helps explain the scope of the agency's plan.
“To be successful, we need every employee at the SFMTA to pitch in and help on this event,” wrote Reiskin.“We are looking for staff to volunteer as ambassadors."
According to the paper, he specified the shifts lasted from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and they would be needed from January 20 to February 9. An SFMTA employee told the Examiner they're looking to fill 250 shifts.
So, a quick calculation: 250 shifts at 4 hours per shift equals 1,000 man hours. That's 1,000 man hours not being accounted for in the overall Super Bowl City costs to San Francisco taxpayer. SFist reached out to Reiskin in an attempt to find out how much the agency expects to pay out for this volunteer time, and to confirm if the volunteer time estimate is correct. As of press time, we have received no response.
While the unaccounted SFMTA hours may be a drop in the bucket when compared to the overall scope of the mismanaged Super Bowl 50 deal, it speaks to a pattern of unaccounted for costs.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin told the paper that this strange volunteer plan "is going to add to the millions of dollars of unreimbursed taxpayer costs, or it’s going to lead to a reduction in Muni services and productivity, period.”
Supervisor Jane Kim agrees, and made her opinion clear in an email to the Examiner.
“If any staff is being diverted from providing needed services to San Franciscans in order to ‘volunteer’ their time, that’s absolutely unacceptable,” noted Kim. “That’s exactly the type of shell game with city resources that we have to scrutinize.”
Update, January 29: SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose returned our request for comment, but managed to not answer our question. We asked the agency how much they expect to pay out to employees during this "volunteer" time.
"There are no additional costs," writes Rose. "This is part of the volunteers' regularly scheduled work time. It saves costs of having professional ambassadors during regular work hours and it is a common way that transit agency’s support customer service during big events and disruptions."
Remember, the issue here is that city officials are able to hide the true cost of hosting Super Bowl City if paid, on-the-clock employees' time is not counted toward total Super Bowl costs. So while paying SFMTA employees to "volunteer" on the clock during normal work hours may not cost the SFMTA any "additional costs," as Rose writes, it means that the true cost of hosting the Super Bowl City remains unknown.
As Supervisor Kim noted, it's a shell game — one the citizens of San Francisco are sure to lose.