Two weeks ago, I reported on the decision of the San Francisco Election Commission to not renew the term of John Arntz, by a 4-2 vote, who is completing his fourth 5-year stint as Director of the San Francisco Department of Elections. The one and only reason given by the Commissioners for not renewing his contract was that Arntz did not meet the diversity goals set forth in Mayor London Breed’s racial equity plan, and the Commission wanted to open the process to other candidates in order to fulfill those goals. John Arntz is a straight white male.
The outcry from San Francisco and across the nation was diluvian in nature. Conservative media had a field day poking fun at the Liberal bastion that is San Francisco, as the city by the bay seemed to be plumbing new depths of Woke identity politics. More telling though was the criticism emanating from Left-leaning circles in San Francisco and beyond.
Mayor London Breed herself, whose racial equity plan was cited as rationale for not reappointing the Director said that Arntz:
“has served San Francisco with integrity, professionalism and has stayed completely independent. He’s remained impartial and has avoided getting caught up in the web of city politics, which is what we are seeing now as a result of this unnecessary vote. Rather than working on key issues to recover and rebuild our city, this is a good example of unfair politicization of a key part of our government that is working well for the voters of this city.”
California Liberal icon State Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) tweeted:
“When John Arntz took over as Director of Elections, the Department was a mess — remember ballot box tops floating in the bay? Arntz turned it around. It’s now one of our best run departments. Why on earth is the Elections Commission moving to dump this strong elections leader?”
The position of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors—the elected body responsible for funding the San Francisco Election Commission—was also critical of the racially motivated decision to sack Mr. Arntz.
District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin called the move to sack Arntz “Bananas.” More pointedly, Peskin went on to proclaim, “The remarks from Commissioners are ripe for a discrimination lawsuit.”
Yet, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors did not just offer critical commentary, they took it one step further. The San Francisco Elections Commission simply does not have a set budget. Chris Jerdonek, the President of the Commission was informed that the Mayor’s office and the Board of Supervisors would just not provide the estimated $50,000 necessary for the Election Commission to hire a firm to conduct a search for a new Elections Director. The Board of Supervisors was unanimous in their decision. This maneuver in and of itself did not sit well in some circles. Several government advocacy groups confronted the Board of Supervisors with accusations that withholding funds from the Commission was tantamount to interfering in their autonomy which was set in their charter when the Commission was created in 2002.
Jerdonek wrote in an email that not providing funding for a Director’s search would be “undermining” the Commission’s oversight mandate and prevent the Commission from hiring an Elections Director—a responsibility specifically enumerated in that charter.
Election Commissioner Cynthia Dai said:
“Having to beg for the money every five years — it certainly undermines our independence.”
The last time the Commission was funded for and employed a search firm for the Director’s position was in fact twenty years ago when John Arntz was first appointed.
Commissioners said the fact they don’t have funding “highlights a weakness” in the charter. Perhaps so, but arguably the fact that the Commission would relieve a highly qualified and respected public servant of his job simply because he does not check any of the diversity boxes would highlight that the body ought not have any autonomy in the first place.
There are those who have speculated that the real motivation behind the decision to not renew Arntz was based on his apparent recalcitrance to seek out and employ an open-source voting system for San Francisco elections. Open-source voting allows any member of the public to view the code used to ultimately tabulate ballots. And even if Arntz had been slow to embrace this technology for San Francisco, this appears as nothing more than a red herring in order to refocus the public’s view away from the Commission’s blatant race-based motivations.
In a meeting of the Commission on Monday, it became apparent that a combination of the public outcry backing reappointment of Arntz, the risk of a time consuming and costly discrimination lawsuit, and a lack of funding to conduct a search for a new director, has saved John Arntz from the chopping block. The Commission passed a resolution to consider in January renewing Arntz to a new 5-year term as Elections Director, effectively backtracking on an effort to replace him. Language coming from both the Election Commission meeting on Monday and then the Supervisors’ meeting on Tuesday reflected a need and desire to work together to satisfy funding needs of the Commission when they should arise in the future.
Election Commissioner Lucy Bernholz perhaps had the most insightful and meaningful comment at their meeting when she said at Monday’s meeting:
“It is incumbent upon this commission to rectify the damage done by the previous decision as quickly as possible. Not only have we inflicted damage on the department, we’ve made ourselves an unreliable, untrustworthy body, and until we fix that, all of the work we’ve done on other issues is out the window.”
John Arntz has indicated that he will accept a new five-year term as elections Director when it is officially offered to him.
In reporting the actions and motivations behind the Election Commission’s shockingly embarrassing announcement recently, I had related my love for the literary tool known as alliteration. I then ascribed to the Commission and those of their ilk the alliterative moniker Loony Left—a term reserved for the most radical of Progressives. In spite of their apparently coerced policy reversal, the San Francisco Election Commission can without a doubt still be considered loony. Yet, their recognition of a looming legal liability and lack of largesse from the Board of Supervisors, has led to a brief encounter with logic and level-headedness. Time will tell just how long that lasts.
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