Diversity matters, until it doesn’t anymore

The appointment of a new San Francisco ethics commissioner at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors hearing was a case study in subterfuge.

The Ethics Commission itself is best known for having muddled through the interminable hearings on whether Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi should be reinstated after pleading guilty to falsely imprisoning his wife. Mostly the five-member commission deals with campaign finance filings and whistle-blower complaints, though it doesn't necessarily do it well.

A 2011 civil grand jury report called San Francisco Ethics Commission: The Sleeping Watchdog took the organization to task for “excessive influence of the Executive Director” and “abdication of oversight by the Ethics Commissioners.”

The chairwoman of the civil grand jury committee that put together that report was Hulda Garfolo. A former nurse, Garfolo applied for the newly vacant seat on the commission, noting on her application that she attended all the Mirkarimi hearings. That fact would disqualify her from any other position in polite society, but along with her grand jury experience, it would make her pretty well-qualified to sit on the Ethics Commission.

To her great detriment, Garfolo told the truth to the rules committee when it was considering which candidate to recommend to the full Board of Supervisors — her or Brett Andrews. She barely hid her disdain for the commission and the outsized influence of its executive director, John St. Croix. Even her application said, “I would like to help bring credibility and public trust to this commission, which avoids transparency as often as it can.”

So, instead of Garfolo, the committee chose Andrews, the executive director of the Positive Resource Center, a nonprofit that serves the HIV-positive community. A self-described “proud, LGBT, African-American man,” Andrews doesn't have quite the expertise of Garfolo, but he didn't appear to have her reform agenda, either.

Andrews' appointment was up for a vote at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, where he ultimately prevailed. There were legitimate reasons not to appoint him — he's the subject of a whistle-blower lawsuit brought by a former employee, he works at a nonprofit whose funding might pose conflicts and he's not an activist like Garfolo. But none of those were provided as reasons.

Instead, Supervisor John Avalos said he wanted to appoint a lawyer or someone with legal “expertise.” But back in 2011, Avalos voted against the appointment of lawyer Dorothy Liu, saying that legal knowledge is fine but the commission needed “someone with vision.” On and on it went, with supervisors Eric Mar and David Campos joining Avalos in providing nonsensical explanations for their opposition when they should have just said, “the commission is broken and we want someone who can fix it.”

And some of the same supervisors who voted against Michael Antonini's re-appointment to the Planning Commission on the grounds that it needed diversity didn't even acknowledge that Andrews would be the only black or openly gay person on the Ethics Commission.

You see, “diversity” in politics actually means “the same.” As in “this person's political views are the same as mine.” Actual diversity of opinion was not valuable. Much like the truth.

Melissa Griffin's column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at 6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at mgriffin@sfexaminer.com.

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