A proposed ballot measure from Supervisor Gordon Mar to create a new Office of the Public Advocate was shot down by the Board on Tuesday in a 6-to-5 vote — and it's the second time in five years that progressives have sought to create such a department to investigate City Hall corruption.
Mar's effort comes as San Francisco politicos continue reeling — and getting indicted — in connection with a broad-ranging FBI investigation into corruption and bribery in multiple city departments. The public's knowledge of that investigation began in late January with the arrest of longtime Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, and since then has ensnared multiple department heads including Nuru's girlfriend, Sandra Zuniga, who headed up the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services.
And it's the same idea that was shot down by San Francisco voters in 2016, when former Supervisor David Campos proposed creating an Office of the Public Advocate — inspired by similar roles in New York and Seattle — which at the time was a means of potentially setting himself up with new gig after being termed out.
These days it largely comes down to the budget, and several progressive supervisors balked at the notion of creating a new city department at a time of severe budget crisis.
"If the Ethics Commission is broken, then let’s fix it," said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, per the Examiner. “But creating a new department when we have a $1.7 billion deficit and we are trying to take care of people who need to eat just seems nuts to me." And, he added, "It's our job to root out corruption."
As the Chronicle reports, Supervisor Sandra Fewer, who often votes with the progressives, also objected to the cost of creating this new department. But she further voiced concerns about creating a new position for which former city department heads could apply, creating new conflicts of interest.
Supervisors Rafael Mandelman, Catherine Stefani, Norman Yee, and Ahsha Safai also voted against the ballot measure. The progressive bloc of Hillary Ronen, Matt Haney, Dean Preston, and Shamann Walton voted to support Mar's measure.
"This is not a spending measure, this is a cost saving measure,” Mar said on Tuesday, per the Chronicle. "The system we have has failed the people of the city."
"I don’t think you can look at the decades of misconduct and say that the system we have is working,” Mar added, per the Examiner.
The ballot measure, if approved by supervisors and voters, would have created four new city positions that would have cost a total of between $3 million and $4 million.
As the Chronicle notes, Stefani shot down the measure saying, "In all my years I’ve never heard anyone say that the answer to San Francisco problems was more politicians."
But more city departments there likely shall be.
Also on Tuesday, the Board took a final 7-4 vote to put a measure on the November ballot that would create a different new city department, the Department of Sanitation and Streets. As proposed recently by Supervisor Matt Haney, the department would take street- and sidewalk-cleaning duties away from the Department of Public Works and make these the sole focus of a separate department. The measure would also create an oversight commission, like those that oversee the Planning and Police departments, to keep tabs on both Public Works and the new Department of Sanitation and Streets.
And, as KPIX reports, the Board unanimously approved another ballot measure that would create a Sheriff's Department Oversight Board and Inspector General position — a body like the Police Commission, but overseeing the sheriff's department. This new board would be in charge of appointing an Inspector General whose duties would include investigating in-custody deaths, as well as complaints of non-criminal misconduct of sheriff’s department staff and contractors.
The San Francisco Sheriff's Department is in charge of the county jail as well as policing City Hall and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, and has never before had an oversight body.