Apparently being appointed to a city commission by Mayor London Breed required you to sign an advance letter of resignation, should she ever become displeased with you. She says she’ll end the practice, now that it has leaked and investigations are underway.
It’s struck me as odd for the last few months why Breed-appointed officials DA Brooke Jenkins and Supervisor Matt Dorsey have been so cheerfully eager to please Mayor London Breed since their appointments. Jenkins caused a little uproar right after her appointment with the unusual move of bringing Breed’s staffers to tag along in her department meetings; Dorsey makes a point of cheerleading for Breed in many of his social media posts. It’s not unlike Lindsey Graham or Ted Cruz around Trump, where there seems this odd sycophancy to please the leader, when it’s the voters, not the executive, who will determine their future political fates.
I am alarmed by reports that the Mayor’s Office is requiring undated resignation letters from appointed commissioners. This raises serious questions under our Charter & threatens independence of commissioners. 🧵https://t.co/90MkK0dJgj— Dean Preston (@DeanPreston) September 24, 2022
But a revelation from last week may explain this dynamic. When a small spat broke out over a police commissioner Max Carter-Oberstone’s vote that allegedly angered Breed, the SF Standard obtained via a records request “an undated resignation letter that Carter-Oberstone said the Mayor’s Office had him sign as a condition of his reappointment this past spring.” Breed’s office confirmed other appointees were asked to do the same. So that means if Breed appointed you to a commission, you had to hand in your undated resignation first, and then she’d keep that letter in a secret drawer, leaving the threat of it to hang over you like a Sword of Damocles.
That SF Standard article also explores the possibility that Breed is in the process of firing SFPD Chief Bill Scott. Did she force him to sign a secret letter of resignation? Did Jenkins and Dorsey have to sign secret resignation letters? What percentage of City Hall employees have a secret, poison-pill advance letter of resignation sitting in a secret drawer of Mayor Breed’s?
Sup. @DeanPreston plans to strip the mayor of her ability to direct city commissioners to sign secret, undated resignation letters as a condition of their appointments after The Standard exposed the practice Friday.https://t.co/Oq9OeeLcH2— The San Francisco Standard (@sfstandard) September 25, 2022
On Friday, Supervisor Dean Preston said he was exploring legislation to end that practice. By Saturday, Breed’s office announced they would stop demanding advance, undated letters of resignation from her appointees, according to the Chronicle, claiming in a statement the practice would only be “reserved for the most dire situations of inappropriate behavior or dereliction of duties.”
“The Mayor has consulted with the City Attorney and been informed that, while legal, the letters are likely unenforceable in court if they were ever to be used,” the statement to the Chron added. “The Mayor will still hold her commissioners accountable to the standards behind the intent of the letters, but will discontinue the practice of requesting the letters and rescind the existing ones.”
NEW: After @sfstandard revealed Mayor Breed secretly made her commission appointees sign undated letters of resignation, raising concerns about their independence, the mayor is ending the practice https://t.co/ZWNcHyGsWM— Michael Barba (@mdbarba) September 25, 2022
But this announcement is not having the “Cleanup on Aisle Five” effect it intended. Preston still insists he’s going to investigate, and Supervisor Hillary Ronen is backing him up, as it sure seems a way to manipulate commissioners.
“If they’re only doing what they’re told by their appointer, what a waste of time and money,” Ronen told the Chronicle. “I would hope Mayor Breed and all elected officials responsible for appointing commissioners would respect those commissioners’ independence.”
If you think that an advance registration letter would be used as a figurative gun to one’s head, you are probably correct. “It looks like political hardball because it is political hardball,” SF State assistant professor of political science Jason McDaniel told the Chron. Though he added, “I think the people who are shocked by this are already opponents of the mayor.”
This is all a completely unforced error by Breed, and started with an obscure police commission vote that only the hardest-core City Hall news devotees would have even noticed. But, strangely, she chose to call out Carter-Oberstone and claim publicly that he “lied” to her about his vote, which led him to his epic Twitter takedown of the mayor, which led to the revelation of the secret resignation letters. No one will remember how this started, they will only remember the ghoulish-sounding (though probably not unheard-of) practice of forcing people to write their own resignation letters. And even if the practice is over, her detractors can make political hay of this for years.
Image: London Breed via Twitter