SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Several San Francisco supervisors are calling for a independent investigation of city departments involved in a growing corruption scandal.
At a news conference Thursday morning, District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney and two other supervisors said an investigation by the City Attorney and Controller’s office called for by Mayor London Breed would not be sufficient for what’s needed at City Hall.
“For a long time now, City Hall has been plagued by a culture of ‘pay-to-play,’ under the table, backroom dealings that have undermined the city’s values,” said Haney. “It’s is both necessary and appropriate to identify a completely independent investigator without any pre-existing contracts or relationships with the city to conduct investigations.”
Raw Video: Supervisor Matt Haney press conference
Haney said the investigation would look at the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW) as well as other city departments including the Department of Public Health, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, and the San Francisco International Airport Commission “and any implicated departments within the executive branch” to find out the extent of the corruption within city government.
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Haney has also demanded the immediate firing of the DPW Director Mohammed Nuru following his arrest on federal public corruption charges this week. Nuru is currently on leave.
Haney’s district includes the Tenderloin where residents have been hoping for a solution to the ongoing problem of filthy streets for years.
“When we asked Director Nuru to take action to add bathrooms and trash cans and pressure washing, the answer was ‘no,'” said Haney. “Now we know that at the very time that the conditions on our streets worsened, Director Nuru is accused of spending his time lining his own pockets.”
Haney said the the city’s DPW employees, often tasked with cleaning human waste and used needles off city streets, genuinely care about their city and many have long recognized they worked under a corrupt system.
“However, the hard work and good intentions of these public servants has been consistently undermined by executive leadership, who treated the department like a one-person fiefdom, where anything [Nuru] says, goes,” said Haney. “In many cases, city employees have been too afraid to report what’s been going on for fear of retribution by Director Nuru himself or other people involved in these schemes.”
Among the charges, Nuru is accused of providing inside information and manipulating contract specifications for building public toilets and homeless shelters to give a business associate, restaurateur Nick Bovis, an unfair advantage in bidding to build the structures. Bovis is also accused of fraud in the federal complaint.
Nuru was also accused of trying to bribe San Francisco International Airport Commissioner Linda Crayton to help Bovis secure a restaurant lease at SFO.
Crayton, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing, resigned as airport commissioner a day after the corruption charges were announced, citing ongoing health issues.
Nuru is also the chairman of the Tranbay Joint Powers Authority which administers the Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco, and is also accused of intervening to secure a desirable lease in the transit center for Bovis in exchange for benefits provided by Bovis.
Haney said his office has received a number of calls and emails from current and former DPW workers sharing their experiences and fears that the city will not protect them if they speak out against the former director.
“Director Nuru’s corrupt behavior didn’t happen in a vacuum,” Haney said. “His approach was fostered and protected by city leaders who turned a blind eye. It is imperative that City Hall send a message that we have zero tolerance for blatant corruption.”
Haney was joined at the press conference by District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar and District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston.
“We call ourselves a progressive city, and yet we have allowed a culture of casual corruption to go unchecked for decades across this town and across half a dozen administrations,” said Mar.
“We cannot simply sit back and allow the executive branch and its members to investigate themselves,” said Preston. “And so we will be doing everything that we can to make sure that there is an independent investigation.”
Breed’s office reiterated on Thursday that the investigation by the City Attorney and Controller would be an independent one, as both are independent entities. Once their investigation is finished, they will make recommendations for reforms to ensure the highest standard of integrity, her office said.
This would not be the first time City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office has investigated Muhammaed Nuru. Back in 2004, Nuru was implicated in a voting fraud scheme involving public works employees.
Herrera produced a scathing report on the matter to Nuru’s boss at the time.
“I really want the investigation to be completed as soon as possible,” said Ed Lee in 2004, who was then serving as the head of the Department Public Works. “We are full cooperation as the mayor has requested.”
“And if these accusations are accurate people should be held accountable,” added Mayor Gavin Newsom.
The result was Ed Lee ultimately appointing Nuru head of Public Works in 2011, a move Herrera criticized during that year’s mayoral campaign.
In a statement at the time, Herrera said, “Nuru doesn’t belong in charge of a city department with a $129 million annual budget.” He added that the appointment smacked of “cronyism, politics and poor judgment.”
Flash forward to 2020. Herrera will investigate Nuru again.
“And what saved San Francisco taxpayers from further graft is the United States attorney,” said retired judge Quentin Kopp.
Kopp recently quit the San Francisco ethics commission, a body he calls a waste of money. He says the Nuru case exposes the city’s lack of seriousness in exposing public corruption.
“This is the responsibility of the district attorney of the city and county of San Francisco,” Kopp explained. “You have the spectacle of the U.S. attorney performing the responsibility of city and county officials.”
So along with the FBI investigation, City Hall will conduct at least one investigation, maybe two. There was also talk of reform and restructuring DPW.
That, of course, will fall into the timeless tug of war between the east and west sides of City Hall. The City Attorney, meanwhile, says a thorough investigation is underway and will go wherever the facts lead.