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Health director Barbara Garcia allegedly ousted for directing contracts to wife

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SF Department of Public Health director Barbara Garcia resigned Tuesday. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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San Francisco Public Health Director Barbara Garcia’s unexpected resignation Wednesday came after a months-long investigation by the City Attorney’s Office and the Department of Human Resources into a potential conflict of interest.

Garcia allegedly used her authority as department head to direct city contracts to an institute where her wife plays a leading role, according to sources close to the matter.

The embattled public health director was then given a choice to be fired, or resign.

Garcia could not be reached for comment.

Larry Bush, a City Hall ethics watchdog and former head of the Friends of Ethics, said, “It sounds like money going out the front door, and coming in the backdoor,” because money from the department led by Garcia — which she had the authority to grant — were directed to the company that paid her romantic partner.

A whistleblower tipped The City off, setting the investigation in motion.

Though it’s unclear how long Garcia might have used her authority to direct those contracts, city records show $1.2 million in funding from the Department of Public Health to the California Institute of Integral Studies since 2009 according to the City Controller’s Office. Dorotea Reyna, Garcia’s partner, served as vice president of development.

The institute is a South of Market-based university with Department of Public Health contracts for behavioral health in jails. This most recent year, 2018-19, the institute was not awarded a DPH contract.

But Garcia had not disclosed any of her partner’s interest in the institute in Garcia’s filed statements of economic interest, a key city form where public officials disclose such conflicts.

Perhaps feeling the heat, in July Garcia amended those economic interest forms, known as Form 700s, to reflect her wife’s annual income of more than $100,000 all the way back to at least 2015.

That’s information she hadn’t revealed to The City before.

Bush wondered, if Garcia knew “this was coming, did she resign just in time to avoid being fired?”

Dr. Judie Wexler, president of the California Instititue of Integral Studies, sent me this statement Thursday:

“We have been working closely with the City, which had asked us to cooperate with a review they were undertaking. We have given them all of our files on the matter that they have requested.

We also looked through all of our files, and we could not see anything that the university did wrong or anything that anyone at the university did wrong. We are very proud of the work we did under this grant. As a non-profit university committed to serving the underserved we were able to use the grant to bring greater diversity into the counseling psychology profession.

From our files we could not see anything that Ms. Reyna had do with the contract. She left the university a while ago, before we heard about this investigation. As far as I know, no one in leadership at the university has heard from her since she resigned.”

Garcia sent a letter to all employees to announce her resignation, Wednesday.

“I have had the great privilege of leading, along with all of you, the best Health Department in the country. Together, with our Health Commission, we have worked to protect and to promote the health of all people in San Francisco,” said Garcia in the letter. “As you know, there is still so much work to do, especially in our communities of color. I am confident of your commitment to continue to raise the health status of all people in San Francisco.”

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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