Wednesday, January 14, 2009
The Ethical Inquisition of Tony Hall
The City and County of San Francisco Ethics Commission held a meeting on Monday evening on the fourth floor of City Hall.
The first order of business was releasing their "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order" after three years of investigating the former City Supervisor Tony Hall for campaign spending irregularities when he was running for re-election in 2004, close to five years ago.
The investigation cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million and resulted in a $5,000 fine for not dotting the i's and crossing the t's on a campaign expense report detailing gas fees, and another $1,000 fine for using the wrong credit card when buying Hall's wife and daughter a pair of purses in Nevada.
To call this expensive, unethical and politically motivated investigation a travesty is a serious understatement, and any of the commissioners who have a shred of integrity should seriously consider resigning because the entire affair is stinking up City Hall.
For the last couple of years, all the best reporting on the issue has been at Luke Thomas' "Fog City Journal," with an analysis piece by Hall's lawyer David Waggoner (click here), an outrageously funny piece by h. brown about the case and the commission (click here), and an article by Hall campaign manager Frank Gallagher about possible perjury (click here).
Though the case is not as Dickensian and complicated as "Bleak House," it certainly does have its twists and turns. The story started in 2004 when newly elected mayor Gavin Newsom offered a well-compensated, cushy job to District 7 Supervisor Tony Hall as the director of TIDA (Treasure Island Development Authority). Hall accepted the position rather than continue to run for re-election, and he was replaced by his own former aide Sean Elsbernd who was then working in the Mayor's Office. Elsbernd could be reliably counted on to vote 100% in line with Newsom's agenda, which is what he has done quite shamelessly for the last four years. In order to accept the position, by the way, the Ethics Commission had to rule for a special exemption for Hall, which is when he got a first-hand look at how they essentially serve at the mayor's bidding.
The mayor's folks presumed that Hall would just put on a sailor's cap and watch the sailboats go by, but instead he actually looked at the books and uncovered a sweetheart deal with Darius Anderson and his Kenwood Investments group as the sole developer for the island, and when he objected the Board came up with some nonsensical charges against him and he was fired after 14 months.
When Hall announced he was running for Mayor against Newsom a couple of years ago, the news was leaked somehow from the Ethics Commission to the San Francisco Chronicle that there was a serious investigation going on into Hall's past campaign finances, and Hall decided to drop out of the race. When he considered challenging Sean Elsbernd in his recent District 7 reelection, the same tactic was applied. Finally, in a series of absurd hearings, the biggest charge against him from former aide Olivia Scanlon (who went on to work for Sean Elsbernd) came under deep suspicion when two different versions of the same check appeared, one with "Services" in the memo line and one without any notation.
Joe Lynn, who worked for the Ethics Commission from 1998 to 2003 and then served as a commissioner from 2003 to 2006, has written a scathing review of his old haunts (click here). He is now advocating that the half million a year in the enforcement division be taken away from the commission altogether since it seems to be a complete waste of money. My suggestion would be first to get rid of commission director John St. Croix (above) who seems to visibly ooze corruption like a real-life Jabba the Hutt.