Our city has been plagued with stories of corruption this year: The former Public Works director was arrested for bribery and money laundering, a former Recology executive was fraudulently overcharging customers for personal gain, and multiple FBI investigations have resulted in the charging of several department heads.
Corruption hurts us all. It allows bad actors to enrich themselves, siphons resources away from services we desperately need, and erodes public trust in government.
As elected officials, our first and most important responsibility is to be careful stewards of public resources. It’s tragic that the work of so many diligent public servants has been undermined by these bad actors, and it’s why I’ve worked over the last year to pass sweeping anticorruption legislation.
THE NO GRAFT ACT
Last year we discovered that the former director of Public Works was abusing his contracting authority to make awards to the same favored vendors over and over again, often in exchange for money or services on the side. He used a relatively obscure contracting vehicle called a “prequalified pool,” which allowed him to steer his preferred vendors into those prequalified pools and then select them for award without further public notice or competitive process.
My “No GRAFT Act” closed the loophole that was exploited to award contracts to recipients without open competition, and it created a new uniform set of rules for departments directing contracts to prequalified companies bidding for work. This legislation also requires that bids for city work be submitted publicly, be evaluated using objective criteria, and that documentation be retained for future audits.
Similarly, an audit of Public Works found even more loopholes for corruption in the way the city awards grants. And this isn’t just about Public Works; from 2017-20, city departments issued 5,746 grant awards totaling $5.4 billion. Nearly $2 billion per year is awarded in grants without any minimum requirements for competition, open solicitation, transparency, fairness, or documentation. In fact, the city auditor found that the former director of Public Works awarded $24 million in grants in this manner. With my legislation, that ends now.
On July 20, my ordinance to reform the city’s process for awarding grants passed with unanimous support at the full board. This law is a critical step forward to safeguard taxpayer dollars by setting enforceable standards for competitive solicitation, fairness in award selection, documentation, and transparency.
PRETRIAL DIVERSION PROJECT
For nearly two years, I’ve had concerns about how the Pretrial Diversion Project calculates and reports its safety and appearance rates, and whether those metrics adhere to national standards.
This nonprofit is tasked with supervising individuals who are arrested for a crime(s) and are awaiting trial out of custody. As part of their contract, they are required to report on how many of their clients fail to appear for their court dates or reoffend. The Pretrial Diversion Project routinely reported their clients were reoffending only 5–10 percent of the time.
I have consistently challenged their reporting in private meetings, at public hearings, and in a formal letter of inquiry, because it just didn’t add up with what was happening on our streets. This month an independent report was released and showed that 55 percent of those who were arrested and released in San Francisco reoffended before trial, and 74 percent of the most violent offenders committed new crimes before trial.
What I find so alarming is that our public safety agencies had this information and refused to share it. It is unacceptable for a contractor to come to the city and request tens of millions in funding while withholding critical information on performance.
How frequently individuals are rearrested for serious or violent offenses while awaiting trial is not something I take lightly.
We must keep the public safe and we must find alternatives to incarceration, which has devastated communities and comes at incredible expense. However, we cannot achieve those goals if we’re not honest about what works and what doesn’t.
I have voted no on the extension of this contract twice. And, in light of the recent report validating my concerns, I am introducing legislation to reform our pretrial process and adopt the report’s recommendations, which will require more accurate reporting and reduce bias. My legislation will also require reporting every time a judge releases someone against the recommendation of our public safety partners.
RESTORING TRUST IN GOVERNMENT
The ongoing local and federal investigations reaffirm that we need more accountability from city departments. Trust in one’s government is paramount to our democracy, and it is why I have worked tirelessly to push meaningful reforms. San Franciscans’ confidence in their government has rightly been shaken, and I fully intend to do everything I can to restore it.