SF Board of Supervisors Votes To End Mayor’s Controversial Undated Resignation Letter Practice
Mayor Breed faced public pressure last year when it was revealed that she had 48 appointees sign undated letters of resignation
By Evan Symon, February 8, 2023 7:45 pm
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8 to 2 on Tuesday to officially ban Mayor London Breed’s controversial practice of demanding undated resignation letters from many top city officials.
Mayor Breed’s resignation letter practice dates back to when she was sworn into office in July 2018 following her victory in the Mayoral special election. According to Mayor Breed’s Chief of Staff Sean Elsbernd, she had asked some of the employees she was less certain of or who had less than stellar paths to sign the undated letters so that they could easily be removed if they stopped doing their duties or if they refused to resign following wrongdoing or a major scandal. In total, between 2018 and 2022, 48 appointees were told to sign the undated letters out of roughly 400 appointments.
The practice continued until September of last year when Police Commissioner Max Carter-Oberstone, who had signed such a letter, rescinded his resignation letter following his refusal to support her pick for the police commission president, resulting in the story being brought out by the San Francisco Standard. E-mails, texts, and even a draft letter of a resignation confirming Breed’s practice were also soon brought out, resulting in a Board of Supervisors calling a hearing on the matter the next month.
Before the hearing, Breed apologized and promptly shut down the practice. However, in an interview before the hearing, Breed said that it also wasn’t illegal and that she had wanted a level of control over her appointees.
“Why are we focused on that when there are so many important things to be focused on?” Mayor Breed asked in October. “The practice of having prewritten resignation letters was inspired by a port commissioner, Mel Murphy, who would not resign when Mayor Ed Lee asked him to, which affected port commission business. That’s happened to me.”
“That’s part of why we did what we did, and I take full responsibility for it, because it was my decision. It was not an illegal thing to do. But it was necessary if I ever needed to use it. I do want to have a level of control. That’s not even a question, because I’m held accountable for it. Commissioners aren’t even elected. The buck stops with me.”
During the subsequent hearing, Supervisors and questioned Commissioners alike went after Breed for the practice. Supervisor Dean Preston also revealed that he was writing a measure to officially end the practice, as he and others considered it an abuse of power.
“Requiring an appointee or a nominee to provide an undated resignation letter at the time of appointment undermines charter protections for commissioners against at will removal by the appointing authority,” expressed San Francisco supervisor Dean Preston las October. “It raises significant concerns about the level on control that the mayor has over commissioners. I think it’s an abuse of power. Had anyone else done this there would be calls to have them removed from office.
“I think we can read between the lines and put two and two together and understand the mayor was trying to exert control over her appointed commissioners. All those letters have been rescinded. Every commissioner knows know they are not under threat if they don’t agree with the mayor.”
Carter-Oberstone added that “The request was a direct affront to the San Francisco Charter. As the city attorney makes clear this practice does pose a direct threat to our charter and system of government.
Board votes 8-2 to end the resignation letter practice
Preston continued working on this motion into 2023, when it was finally brought forward to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. In an 8-2 vote, the Board agreed to officially end the practice of having appointees hand in undated resignation letters before accepting the new positions.
“I strongly believe that no commissioner protected from at-will termination should face the threat that they can be summarily removed for exercising their independent judgment,” stated Commissioner Preston on Tuesday. “This is common sense, good government legislation, and I hope it restores some of the public trust that the mayor squandered through the unethical, backroom practices that made this ordinance necessary.”
Only Supervisors Catherine Stefani and Rafael Mandelman voted against the measure. Before the vote, Mandelman said that it was reasonable for Breed to try and keep some control over her appointees.
“I don’t think it’s a terrible thing that the mayor sought these letters,” said Mandelman. “It is reasonable for her to maintain, or try to maintain, some level of direction or control over departments that carry out core functions of her administration.”
While the Mayor’s office did not comment on the vote, voters in San Francisco were overwhelmingly in favor of the policy on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“What do you know, the Board actually did something,” said Bay Area local government advisor Sheila Hawkins to the Globe on Wednesday. “But seriously, yeah, most people thought that this was wrong when it came to light last year and are now happy that this sort of thing now isn’t officially allowed. On social media, posts on this have been more than 90% on the side of the Board’s decision, with some preliminary results of polls over this also showing an overwhelming majority in favor. Mayor Breed did wrong here. There’s really no other way to put it.”
A comment on the measure from the Mayor is expected in the near future.
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