San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, in conjunction with the city's Controller, said Tuesday that an independent investigation — beholden to no one at City Hall — is already underway into any potential improprieties in contracts linked to the Department of Public Works and its recently federally charged director, Mohammed Nuru.
Following last Tuesday's bombshell news that Nuru and local restaurateur Nick Bovis had been arrested by the FBI and charged with multiple corrupt "schemes" relating to city contracts, bribery, and the use of city contractors for personal business, Supervisor Matt Haney was among the first to call for swift independent investigations into any and all corruption at City Hall.
"The culture of pay-to-play politics at City Hall must end," Haney said at a news conference Thursday, per the Examiner. "It is both necessary and appropriate to identify a completely independent investigator without any pre-existing contracts or relationship with the city to conduct investigations." Haney was calling for a broad investigation covering all city departments, and saying that a "normal audit" by the city Controller's office would be "insufficient."
Seemingly in response to that call, City Attorney Dennis Herrera made the unusual move today of saying that such an investigation has already gotten underway, and issued a statement that seems aimed at promoting the qualifications and integrity of himself and Controller Ben Rosenfield to conduct such investigation.
"San Franciscans deserve a government that is worthy of their trust," Herrera said in the statement. "When the integrity of San Francisco’s government is called into question, it is our duty to get to the bottom of it and change what isn’t working. That’s what the City Charter calls for, and that’s exactly what we’re doing."
Rosenfield echoed that saying, "San Franciscans are owed transparency and accountability when it comes to their tax dollars. My office is focused on ensuring that public funds are spent wisely and properly. That is our job."
Herrera's office says that this independent investigation into the Department of Public Works "began in earnest immediately upon Nuru’s indictment being made public." And Herrera says that his and Rosenfield's team will be "identifying employees or officials involved in potential violations of local law, [and] the investigation will identify contracts, grants, and other government decisions possibly tainted by conflicts of interest and other legal or policy violations."
The release goes on to enforce the fact that Herrera does not answer to the mayor or anyone else in City Hall. "The City Attorney is an independent elected official who answers directly to San Francisco voters, not any other elected official or body," the release states. It further explains that both the City Attorney's Office and the Controller's Office are "independent City agencies that are separate from the legislative branch and the executive branch." Just in case that wasn't clear.
Further, the statement explains that while the Controller is not elected, he or she is "appointed to a 10-year term in part to guarantee the Controller is independent and removed from political pressure."
The City Attorney's Office and the Controller appear today to want to make clear that they are taking the reins in this thing, to step ahead of any potential effort by the Board of Supervisors to appoint some outside, independent investigator. That is definitely what Haney says he wants to do, and Haney's indignation, as SFist's Joe Kukura pointed out last week, might have a little something to do with his future political ambitions. New D5 Supervisor Dean Preston already seemingly seconded Haney's motion in comments to the press.
It should be pointed out that Herrera, himself, may also want to run for mayor again, as he did in 2011, and as he looked to be considering doing again in 2017. And as the Chronicle recalled over the weekend, Herrera was thoroughly upbraided by the "city family" when he went after Nuru and earlier corruption allegations against him during his 2011 mayoral campaign. Former supervisor John Avalos remembered it, saying, "Dennis Herrera opened his mouth during the 2011 mayor’s race, talking trash about Mohammed Nuru and about corruption. And what did the city family do? They said, ‘How dare you go after an African immigrant who is doing good work in this city?’ [Herrera] basically got slapped down for it."
Also, per today's statement, he investigation would appreciate tips from the public or those in the know. Anyone who has information they'd like to share about crooked city contracts or Nuru himself can submit them anonymously at [email protected], or do so by phone at 415-554-7657.