About Us

Contact Us

VOLUME 2, NUMBER 16    <>  MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2001

Watching City Hall

by h. brown

The guy trying to beat Tiger had KPMG printed across the front of his cap. Where had I seen those initials before, playing on TV for big money? Oh yeah! Ed Harrington, the San Francisco city controller had a hat like that. So did Louise Renne, our city attorney. The assessor, Doris Ward, too. KPMG, I deduced, was the official San Francisco “cleaner,” sending men in dark suits with close-cropped hair to clean out Willie’s financial litter boxes. Like last week at the Board of Supervisors’ Finance Committee.

“Contract?” said managing project director Bob O’Neil of KPMG. “We don’t need no stinking contract!” OK, that’s not exactly what he said. But he didn’t have no stinking contract and he was standing six inches from $400,000 with his best putter in hand. Ward & Harrington hovered behind holding their breath as Bob bit hard on his tongue and stroked away with all the grace of a hippo on ice skates. Harrington looked down at the floor and shook his head as the shot rimmed the hole and trickled on down the slope, onto and across the apron, and on down into the water, where an alligator named Gonzalez allowed it to come to rest against his snout.

The big Gonzalligator never moved. Only his suddenly twinkling eyes betrayed his anticipation. “C’mon Bob,” they seemed to say. “Play it where it lays. Just take off your shoes and socks, roll up your pant legs, and I’ll let you straddle my head and chip the ball right off my snout … you can trust me.”

Well, Bob looked at Ed and Ed looked at Doris and they all looked at Ted Lakey, the city attorney’s rep who was counting light bulbs in the chandeliers and trying to imagine himself someplace safe and warm.

Peskin struck: “I’m not giving you squat!” (my approximate paraphrase).

Aaron had offered to settle the 400 grand marker for around 90 grand earlier in the exchange. The about-face was too much for Controller Harrington. “Why don’t I just take this whole thing back and work with the vendor and maybe we won’t even have to bring this to the board?”

Wrong thing to say. Peskin glanced over at the Gonzalligator and ratcheted up his courage. “I’m glad you brought it here, but I’m not inclined to let you take it back.” The new supervisor had the smarmy accountant out in the middle of the interstate barefoot with only a 9 iron. KPMG was bleeding from the nose and ears.

Count Leno, committee chair, quickly interposed his body and covered the quivering Harrington with his cape. “We can just move this on to the full board without any recommendation.” Mark offered, thinking fond thoughts of Tony Hall and Gavin Newsom.

“I want it tabled,” replied Peskin.

“Sounds good to me,” chimed in the unusually quiet Gonzalez.

“Ted, Ted, what’s that mean?” responded Leno, addressing the deputy city attorney

A citizen once offered during public comment that the San Francisco city attorney’s office could come up with ANY opinion the mayor wanted. Now, here, prostrate and about to go back home without his bag of gold, was the hired-gun outside accounting firm Willie had brought in to clean up City Assessor Doris Ward’s mess. Deputy City Attorney Ted Lakey found a way out. “You can table it, but since it’s been in committee over 30 days, any single member of the board can bring it out of committee for consideration by the full board.” KPMG was gonna get another, more friendly forum.

You might understandably ask, why tell us this? It’s because to understand the big picture, you need to look at a smaller version. Basically, they’re both stories of rip-offs.

Under our form of government (as this particular drunken Irish pot-head interprets it), we start with about 790,000 mostly law-abiding, tax-paying citizens on one side and a governing body of under 100 on the other. The 790,000 provide the money. The 100 or so spend it. Unfortunately, a good chunk ($4.4 billion last year!) is diverted for things that do not serve the public good. Some of it is just outright stolen but most of the graft that you as taxpayers support is dispensed through legal structures. This is where you get the commissions that do exactly the opposite of what they’re supposed to (see Planning & Taxi for starters) and authorities that may as well be huge castles surrounded by moats (see Redevelopment, Port, & Airport). There are also around 53 city departments (don’t correct me if I’m wrong). Then there are entities called “districts.” Various educational, transportational, & your basic crap-&-water-moving institutions. You pay the bill. Not all of it. We also waylay tourists at the airport and on the bridges and in hotels.

These transactions involve billions of dollars. They displace people along the way, and sell off the air and water and landscape and peace and overall identity, soul, and character of the city.

The exchanges that took place in the board’s Finance Committee on Wednesday, April 18, mirrored what happened before the full board earlier in the week. But before the full board it wasn’t $400,000 that one of the mayor’s buddies wanted to drain from the public treasury. It was around $70 million that lots of the mayor’s buddies wanted to take out of your pockets and divide among themselves. Only three of your representatives out of eleven voted against the deal.

The supervisors talked big. Mostly about their own fears. They pretended surrender for the good of the people, but the people want to fight! The most piteous sight of the day was Tom Ammiano looking down to avoid the camera as the vote was cast. A slight smile played across his lips as Daly, Gonzalez, and Sandoval voted to fight. He’d been passed by and he knew it! Suddenly, he was voting with Tony Hall.

Lord Peskin wailed with indignation at Bechtel and Shorenstein. Then he gave them your money. Sophie Maxwell talked about how she could get people to protest in the streets. Then she gave them your money. Jake McGoldrick talked for a rather long while about his childhood in Outer Mongolia or someplace. Then he gave them your money.

We hired these supervisors to fight for us, not to surrender to the enemy on our behalf. They never even fought! They handed over their damned swords new from the case.

OK, big talkers, here’s a challenge for you. Get the money for paying the settlement from the salaries of the mayor’s special assistants. Knock off $40 million from the $45 million they cost. Above all, never let a single one of them gain permanent status. As Denise D’Anne pointed out so well in a recent letter to the Examiner: “The real worry is that these folks will stonewall anything effective the Board of Supervisors wants to accomplish should they manage to have their jobs classified as permanent. The present policies of the mayor will be effectively in control of the city for years — if not decades — to come.”

Bottom line to the supes: the mayor says you only need 2 assistants but he needs over 600. Cut him to 50 assistants. I mean, hell, Jesus only had 12!

Complain to h. brown.