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Friday, July 30, 2021

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News + PoliticsThe Agenda, Sept. 26-Oct 2: The campaign madness moves...

The Agenda, Sept. 26-Oct 2: The campaign madness moves to D1

Sandy Fewer's birth certificate and her SFUSD donations. Plus: What will Ethics do about Mark Farrell's huge fine and Steve Kawa's missing calendar?

It’s pretty crazy everywhere out there these days, what with the mayor-who-isn’t-endorsing having a press conference with a candidate in D11, the candidate backed by the mayor’s allies and the cops in D9 saying he’s the same as the candidate backed by the entire progressive world, the incumbent in D5 saying she doesn’t care who the mayor is – and now we go to District 1.

Sandy Fewer holds a press conference at Chinese Hospital, where she was born, to prove she's actually Chinese. Yes, SF politics has come to this
Sandy Fewer holds a press conference at Chinese Hospital, where she was born, to prove she’s actually Chinese. Yes, SF politics has come to this

First, Sandra Lee Fewer, a two-term member of the School Board and longtime Asian community leader and activist, has to hold a press conference with (yes) her birth certificate to prove that she’s really Chinese. This because a Chinese-language radio station has been promoting crazy rumors (that had to come from somewhere) that she is somehow faking her ethnicity.

And now the Chron is reporting that Fewer “sought donations from subordinates,” which means she apparently asked two School District employees to come to a fundraiser.

City law says office holders can’t solicit money from people who work for them, which make sense. I would much rather worry about office holders soliciting contributions from lobbyists, but whatever: Don’t go asking the people whose jobs you can influence to give you money.

The original version of the Chron story said Fewer’s actions were in “apparent violation” of that law. Except that the city’s ethics laws don’t apply to SFUSD, so the paper put up a new version with that part changed.

Again: Fair enough, they got new information.

But here’s the thing: Lots of School Board members get contributions from school employees – teachers, administrators, and other staff. If you go over the campaign files, it’s hard to find any incumbent who hasn’t received money from staff. If the rule is, they can give, but you can’t ask, ok – but then who asks, your campaign office?

Maybe not a good situation. Maybe the law should say that no SFUSD staff can give to board campaigns (although I suspect the teachers’ union would be a bit unhappy with that). “Everybody does it” isn’t an excuse for breaking the rules.

But here there were no rules broken, and besides, Fewer isn’t running for School Board, she’s running for supervisor, and is at best a lame-duck School Board member who isn’t going to influencing much of anything there in the next few months.

So it seems a bit of a non-story to me. Frankly, I’m much, much more worried about the $100,000 or so that the real-estate interests have put into the campaign of Fewer’s opponent, Marjan Philhour.


And on the campaign finance topic, the Ethics Commission will meet Monday/26 to consider a few interesting topics, including whether Sup. Mark Farrell should be able to settle a $190,000 fine against him for $25,000.

Farrell got in serious trouble when regulators found that his campaign staff had coordinated with a supposedly independent expenditure committee that spent $190,000 supporting him and attacking his rival.

That’s pretty clearly a violation of all the relevant laws, and in essence made the IE contributions an illegal contribution to Farrell’s campaign.

He has refused to pay, and the Ethics Commission has refused to back down, and the whole thing has been in court.

A $25K settlement isn’t nothing, but it’s still a signal that these constant, incessant, big-money IE operations can get away with ignoring the rules, and pay the equivalent of a modest fine.

Commissioner Quentin Kopp will sit in on his first hearing. Wonder how he will feel about this.

The commission will also look at an issue that’s been troubling to a lot of us for a long time: What happens when somebody files a Sunshine Ordinance request for a document, and the city official responsible says it’s been deleted in the normal course of business?

In this case, it’s gadfly Michael Petrelis asking for calendars of Steve Kawa, the mayor’s chief of staff, and Kawa says he doesn’t keep them.

City record-retention policies are way too weak. A lot of departments, I have found, routinely delete or discard documents after as little as two years. That makes absolutely no sense in an era when a hard drive that costs a few hundred bucks can now hold terabytes of documents. Storage is way cheap; one good server could hold every record that City Hall produces in a year, and for a fraction of what we used to have to pay to rent space to hold boxes of old records, the city can keep everything, forever.

And, Larry Bush of Friends of Ethics notes,

all documents on city computers are retained in an archive regardless of whether Kawa or other staffers deleted them from their own computers, so would be available somewhere.

Ethics staff at this point says the commission has no jurisdiction over the case – if the documents are gone, they can’t be produced. But you would think the panel could take this on with a somewhat larger look: How many documents is the city routinely destroying? Why?

The meeting’s at 5:30 pm, Room 400 City Hall.


Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. Can’t believe I even have to write this. Unions ARE their workers, much more representative of the public. Their structure is totally democratic, leadership elected to represent members’ best interests. In a bad union? Vote out the leadership and run yourself! The corporate structure? A fiefdom of narrow, elite interests.

  2. Well, “the many” in the case of San Francisco is about 30,000 employees. Unless you want to include a few dozen politicians too.

    Did I say I wanted to give lobbyists a blank check? They are just as corrupting. However, their influence is understood as corrupting. You too seem to be hoodwinked by the motives of public employee unions.

    Give me even one example when these unions put the public before their own employees. Ain’t gonna happen, just as a corporation isn’t gonna sacrifice profit for the ‘common good’, unless there’s a compelling reason of embarrassing or otherwise detrimental outcome involved (witness Well Fargo cutting bonuses, to stave off criminal charges which are well deserved).

  3. Lets start with the concept that employees be forbidden from contributing to a Board Member running for office (for any office).

    Then of course we extend that to contractors who work for the district. And, yeah, I suppose that would have to extend to the Teachers Union as well — as it should extend to ALL city unions (POA, SEIU, Teamsters, etc). Its a total corruption of democracy when the persons that decide on your pay & bennies are dependent on contributions you make to their election.

    Yeah, perhaps its a ‘State’ issue and not a City one. Doesn’t negate the fact that employee unions are just as corrupting as Lobbyists and contractors. The innocent party in all this is not the office holders, or the contractors or employees – its the g.d. PUBLIC. No one is speaking up for their (OUR) interests.

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