The palace intrigue continues over Monday's announcement that SF Mayor London Breed had tapped longtime City Attorney Dennis Herrera to head up the Public Utilities Commission. And on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors discussed the possibility of holding an election for a new city attorney in late fall, which is when the recall election for Governor Gavin Newsom is now expected to take place.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen introduced a resolution Tuesday to get the ball rolling on a potential election, even though neither a date for the recall nor a date for Herrera's departure — and therefore timing of an election for his replacement — has been set. As the Examiner reports, Supervisor Dean Preston simultaneously sent a letter to Herrera expressing the board's concerns.
"On what date do you plan to vacate your seat?" Preston's letter asks. "Please describe any factors that might impact the timing, and describe any communications or agreements with the mayor of the timing of your vacating your seat."
Mayor Breed will get to appoint a new city attorney who will then have to stand for election 120 days or more after the appointment, per the City Charter. But the supervisors are now trying to strategize given the vagaries of the situation, with Herrera's nomination to the SFPUC still requiring confirmation hearings.
The letter adds, "The fact that the mayor will be appointing someone to head the office that is investigating her administration raises obvious concerns."
Foes of the mayor have not been quiet about the optics of the Herrera nomination — removing him from the city attorney's job just as investigations are ongoing of former Department of Public Works (DPW) director Mohammed Nuru and other current and former members of Breed's staff at City Hall seems convenient — but in a new interview with the Chronicle, Herrera insists that his office's investigations won't end with his departure.
"Big investigations have deep roots, and they don’t just stop because there’s a change in leadership at the top," Herrera says. "[The office is] going to continue with their work, and now they’ll have an ally. They’ll get my full cooperation."
Herrera tells the Chronicle that he and Mayor Breed meet regularly, and when she offered him the job at the PUC, he realized it would give him the opportunity not to be defined "simply by having a title."
After mulling it over on a drive up the coast, Herrera says he decided to go for it. "What better way to show San Francisco’s commitment to ethical, clean government than to put the city’s top watchdog in charge of this agency?" he says.
Herrera adds, "I’m really looking forward to this job, and I can’t wait to get in there."
The federal indictments that began with a probe into dealings by Nuru may still be coming. Several of the contractors and others involved have pleaded guilty and have been cooperating with federal investigators since the middle of last year. And the latest charges came on April 15 against former Recology vice president and manager of its San Francisco group John Porter. Porter is accused alongside another Recology exec of funneling about $1 million in bribes, some in the form of donations to non-profits that did business with DPW, and explicitly saying that this was about keeping Nuru "happy" as their main regulator at City Hall.
In announcing his office's investigations into City Hall corruption last year, Herrera said, "San Franciscans deserve a government that is worthy of their trust. 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."
But even then, some supervisors were skeptical that Herrera was unbiased enough to properly investigate an entrenched culture of low-level corruption at the city.
"The culture of pay-to-play politics at City Hall must end," Supervisor Matt Haney said. "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's calls for hiring an independent investigator, outside of a "normal audit" process, were not heeded.