SF: Newsom Hires New Staff with MUNI Funds

In my medication-induced haze Thursday night, I was turning the dial on the clock radio trying to get the Golden State Warriors game. As the last bit of my strength ran out, the dial ended up on CBS Radio. They were doing short pieces about random local news. There was one story that really caught my ear. Supposedly, Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, hired seven new senior staff for the Mayor’s Office with funds for MUNI. Huh? You can do that?

Doing a bit of research found an SFGate article–S.F. mayor hires top staff at high pay, despite big city deficit–that goes into the story in a bit more detail.

With the city facing a potential $229 million budget deficit next fiscal year, Newsom called for an immediate hiring freeze in November and across-the-board cuts in all city departments. The next month, the mayor eliminated nearly 1,700 unfilled city jobs in anticipation of the bleak fiscal forecast and the millions more in looming state cuts.

But not long afterward, Newsom recruited six new senior staff members to work in his office and promoted a program manager to his inner circle, giving him a $14,000 annual raise.

In a majority of these hirings, half or all of their salary is paid from funds provided by the MTA. I would understand if the position is highly regarded as integral to the City, but what does a Director of Climate Protection Initiatives do exactly?

Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard defended the hirings, saying all of them were related in some way to the MTA. From the article, Mayor Newsom taps transit funds:

Among the positions being funded with MTA dollars are the mayor’s new director of climate change initiatives, who Ballard said is expected to help Muni adopt more environmentally friendly operating practices, and the head of CityBuild, a job training and job placement program that has contributed workers to construction of Muni’s Third Street light-rail line and a new maintenance facility.

The MTA also is helping pay the salaries of Astrid Haryati, just hired by Newsom to expand tree-planting and other so-called greening initiatives, and Stuart Sunshine, the mayor’s point man on transportation. Also on the MTA payroll are an assistant to Sunshine and Martha Cohen, who coordinates major public events for the city and deals, in part, with street closures.

Ballard and members of the Board of Supervisors confirmed the practice of using funds from other departments to pay for the salaries of the mayor’s staff as normal procedure. This time, however, the mayor should have been a bit more discreet when choosing the fund to pilfer from.

The MTA projected a budget deficit for MUNI to run up into the millions for the year 2008. Voters in November approved a bill to transfer $28 million from the General Fund to the MTA. Late last year, Mayor Newsom gets rid of 1,700 unfilled City jobs as part of his goal to reduce the budget. Now, based on these three facts, what does the mayor do? He creates seven new positions in his office and uses funds from the MTA to pay for them.

What was he thinking? Obviously, we need some changes to how things are done in the government. Using funds from other departments to pay the staff salaries of the Mayor’s Office should not be standard practice. The mayor should not have the authority to create new Mayor’s Office positions at his discretion. He should have to provide a report with reasoning behind the creation to the Board of Supervisors; a majority vote is required for the position to be created.

Based on articles found on the Internet, here are the positions created:

  • Wade Crowfoot – Director of Climate Protection Initiatives – $130,112
  • Brian Purchia – Deputy Press Secretary – $85,000
  • Kevin Ryan – Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice – $160,862
  • Dwayne Jones – Director of Community Engagement and Communities of Opportunity – $143,000
  • Nancy Kirschner Rodriguez – Director of Government Affairs – $143,123
  • Catherine Dodd – Deputy Chief of Staff – $143,123
  • Astrid Haryati – Greening Directory – $110,000

A cookie to anyone who can figure out how all of these positions are related to the MTA.

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