A gay man who is seeking a seat on San Francisco’s ethics commission is drawing fire from a number of LGBT leaders opposed to his application.
Brett Andrews, (seen at right) the executive director of the Positive Resource Center, is one of two people seeking the vacant seat created by the resignation of former commissioner Dorothy Liu. Hulda Garfolo, who chaired the Civil Grand Jury report on the ethics commission, has also applied for the seat, whose term expires February 1, 2017.
The Board of Supervisors’ rules committee is set to recommend one of the two at its meeting tomorrow (Thursday, May 16) and the full board is expected to finalize the choice at its meeting next week Tuesday, May 21.
The ethics commission has not had an LGBT member since Eileen Hansen left the panel in 2011. The out lesbian consultant was the board’s representative for six years and criticized the five-person commission as toothless.
Critics have long complained that the oversight panel is too lenient when it comes to regulating and investigating complaints against campaign consultants, lobbyists, political candidates and city employees. It is unclear how Andrews, if picked, would be able to carry out his duties as a commissioner without crossing conflict of interest lines.
Not only does Andrews lead a nonprofit that routinely lobbies city officials for funding, he is also vice chair of the HIV/AIDS Provider Network, a consortium of local nonprofits that offer services to people living with HIV and AIDS. He was one of the invited speakers at the recent budget town hall for residents of supervisor districts 8 and 9 hosted by Mayor Ed Lee and gay supervisors David Campos (D9) and Scott Wiener (D8).
It is foreseeable, should Andrews join the ethics commission, that matters involving the politicians his nonprofit relies on for funding would come before him. He notes in his application for the seat that for two decades as an executive director he has “worked closely with government agencies on funding, program development” and other issues.
In response to a request for comment this afternoon (Wednesday, May 15), Andrews sent the B.A.R. an email that included segments of his application sent to supervisors. He wrote that he “would embrace the challenge of this important role with integrity and enthusiasm.”
He added, “As a proud LGBT, African American man, I have devoted my professional career to working with nonprofit organizations that serve economically disadvantaged and traditionally underrepresented individuals – social and economic justice are the cornerstones of my life work.”
As for recusing himself from certain matters, Andrews wrote that he has been vetted for conflicts by the City Attorney’s Office. He noted the Ethics Commission has a “clearly defined recusal procedure in place that all commissioners abide by.”
He also maintained that he doesn’t “lobby” City Hall or the Board of Supervisors “for PRC-specific funding.” Rather, he wrote that, “with participation from other services providers, I do support efforts and initiatives that provide resources for the non-profit sector. Simply put, I will always disclose the nature of my relationship with elected officials or any city employee, and if it is determined that there is a conflict, then I recuse myself from discussion and vote.”
In a letter sent to the rules committee today, a draft of which was provided to the Bay Area Reporter, a group called Friends of Ethics endorsed Garfolo’s appointment to the seat and called her background and qualifications “clearly superior” compared to Andrews. The group of former ethics commissioners and staffers to the body also raised concerns about Andrews’ ties to politicians.
“Mr. Andrews’ application touts his relationship with the Mayor’s office, Board of Supervisors, and various departments, the leaders of which fall under the Ethics Commission’s jurisdiction for disclosure of economic interests and other regulations,” states the letter.
It goes on to state that, “It is unclear what additional – or relevant – perspective Mr. Andrews would bring since he has no ethics or policy experience. The Board’s appointee should not require ‘on-the-job’ training in good government reform.”
Among the signatories to the letter opposing Andrews are Hansen and former gay ethics commissioners Bob Dockendorff, Bob Planthold, and Paul Melbostad, who is also the B.A.R.‘s legal counsel. They specifically raise the conflict-of-interest question, noting that Joe Lynn, a gay man who served on the ethics commission, resigned in 2006 after being hired to work for the HIV Planning Council and HIV Prevention Council because they both received city funding.
They write that were Lynn still alive today, he “would no doubt be the first to both praise the work of PRC, which Lynn greatly admired, and decry the conflict of appointing PRC’s director to an Ethics Commissioner post.”
The letter also references an August 16, 2012 B.A.R. article about a lawsuit filed by a former PRC employee alleging wrongful termination for raising concerns to Andrews and the PRC board. Andrews at the time declined comment due to it being a personnel matter, but in court documents PRC called the former staffer a “bully” who was creating her own agency that would compete against PRC.
“Apparently, the disposition of the case is still pending. With a cloud of whistleblower retaliation hanging over applicant Andrews’ non-profit agency, it would be inappropriate to appoint Andrews to a government agency that is charged with enforcing San Francisco’s ordinance regarding Protection of Whistleblowers,” states the letter from the Friends of Ethics group.
In his email to the B.A.R. Andrews wrote that the former PRC staffer, Jane Gelfand, filed her lawsuit after leaving voluntarily over actions taken by the agency’s board after extensive consultation with and on advice of preeminent counsel on ethics and employment matters.
“I have nothing more to add to PRC’s prior public filings. The parties have reached a settlement in principle, wherein PRC has not been determined to have been liable for any ethical violations or any wrongdoing,” wrote Andrews.
In its praise for Garfolo, the group points to her being a member of the 2010-11 Civil Grand Jury, which authored reports about the Ethics Commission’s performance and another that highlighted various problems with the city’s whistleblower program.
“She is an excellent and experienced choice for this important Commission and will, we believe, make the Board of Supervisors proud as she implements her experience and commitment to ethics regulation,” they write.
Garfolo is a former nurse and business owner. In her application she wrote that she wants the ethics seat because the Civil Grand Jury “found ethics has failed miserably in its mandated mission. I would like to help bring credibility and public trust to this commission, which avoids transparency as often as it can.”
Andrews has garnered the backing of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, on whose board he was a member. In a letter to the supervisors, the club wrote that its board unanimously voted to support his application.
“He is a highly qualified candidate whose background in both politics and organizational management will bring an additional perspective to the current commission,” wrote Alice co-chairs Martha Knutzen and Ron Flynn. They also noted that Andrews “was active politically for many years before his service on the Alice board, gaining practical experience about how political campaigns operate and the challenges they face in advocating for civil rights.”
They refer to Andrews as “an example of leadership with integrity” and believe he is “uniquely qualified” to be an ethics commissioner.
He told the B.A.R. that if he is selected he would focus on developing ethics training and education programs as well as the enforcement of rules.
“It is important that the City continue to provide educational and training opportunities for those interested in working in city government or seeking to hold public office, particularly those historically underrepresented in the political process,” wrote Andrews. “The Ethics Commission has the authority to enforce all ethics laws and rules, including campaign finance and open government laws. I would like to work with the commission on developing strategies that increase active enforcement of violations in the area of enforcement of rules.”
It is believed that Andrews has the votes on the rules committee over Garfolo but that the full board is more evenly divided. Board president David Chiu (D3) is seen as the swing vote who could decide who is picked.
The rules committee meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in Room 263 at City Hall. It is chaired by District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee and includes Supervisors London Breed (D5) and Malia Cohen (D10).