Supervisor Matt Haney announced Thursday he intends to seek an outside investigator to root out potential wrongdoing in multiple city departments after a federal complaint this week revealed allegations of pay-to-play schemes involving Public Works head Mohammed Nuru.
Speaking on the steps of City Hall alongside Supervisors Dean Preston and Gordon Mar, Haney said that he was working on issuing a request for proposals to seek an outside investigator.
“The culture of pay-to-play politics at City Hall must end,” Haney said. “San Franciscans deserve a transparent, accountable, effective government. We have a long way to go to achieve this goal. But I believe that a clear and completely independent investigation is the way forward.”
It’s not clear exactly when the request for proposals would be issued and how much it would cost. Haney said he is still working on those details. He plans to work with the board’s clerk to issue the request after developing the scope with his colleagues, including members of the board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee. The issuance of the request would require Board of Supervisors approval, Haney said.
“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 our city’s values,” Haney said. “It is both necessary and appropriate to identify a completely independent investigator without any pre-existing contracts or relationship with the city to conduct investigations.”
While The City has agencies that currently perform audits, like the City Controller’s Office or the board’s budget analyst, Haney said “the sensitive and potentially broad spanning nature of this investigation makes a normal controller’s audit insufficient.”
“The ‘special investigator’ will be tasked with investigating the extent of the corruption within the department of Public Works, The Department of Public Health, the Airport Commission and any other implicated City Departments in the executive branch,” Haney said in a statement.
On Tuesday, federal prosecutors charged longtime Public Works head Nuru and restaurateur Nick Bovis with wire fraud, related to allegations they sought to bribe Airport Commissioner Linda Crayton with $5,000. Crayton, who is not charged with a crime and did not take the bribe, tendered her resignation from the commission Wednesday citing health reasons. Nuru was also charged with false statements for allegedly lying to the FBI.
The 75-page criminal complaint also details four other alleged public corruption schemes involving Nuru around city contracts and developments.
Nuru was placed on administrative leave Monday, but Haney suggested that Nuru should not remain employed by The City. City Administrator Naomi Kelly oversees the head of Public Works and appoints the position along with the mayor.
“For anyone who is in a situation like this it seems clear that they should resign,” Haney said. “I have been advised by the city attorney that I cannot call directly for someone to be dismissed but I very much hope that the mayor and city administrator do the right thing here and hear us loud and clear.”
Haney’s media release had said he would call for Nuru’s “firing,” but before the event an attorney with the labor union that represents department heads, the Municipal Executive Association, had sent a letter to Haney arguing that calling for Nuru’s termination would violate the city charter’s provisions prohibiting interference with appointments and discipline.
Haney has butted heads with Nuru since he came into office more than a year ago over the best way to clean up the Tenderloin and SoMa neighborhoods he represents.
“Time and time again when we asked Director Nuru to take action to add bathrooms and trash cans and pressure washing the answer was no,” Haney said. “Now we know at the very time that the condition on our streets worsened Director Nuru is accused of spending his time lining his own pockets. This is infuriating.”
Haney said he is also working on a November ballot measure that could restructure Public Works and establish an oversight committee of some kind for its operations.
The FBI also raided the office of permit expediter Walter Wong, who has close ties to Bovis and Nuru, the San Francisco Examiner previously reported. Wong has not been charged with a crime.
Preston said that there is a “need for an independent investigation.”
“We absolutely cannot rely on the executive branch of government in the city and county of San Francisco to investigate itself,” Preston said. “That does not work as shown by the long standing corruption that is being revealed as the days unfold.”
Mar, who chairs the board’s audit committee, said that “we have allowed a culture of casual corruption to go unchecked for decades across this town and across half a dozen administrations.”
“This moment is a tremendous opportunity to fully and finally reckon with our culture of corruption,” Mar said. “We must dismantle the status quo that allowed this.”
In reaction to the federal complaint Tuesday, Breed said in a statement that “I’m asking the City Attorney and the Controller to conduct a thorough review of any implicated City contracts or other decisions and to investigate any suspected violations of the law or the stringent guidelines and rules that ensure the integrity of our contracting process.”
A mayoral spokesperson suggested Haney’s proposal would be redundant.
“We’ve already started the process of an independent investigation,” said mayoral spokesperson Andy Lynch. He noted that both the City Attorney’s Office and the City Controller’s Office are independent agencies and “this is what their role in city government is for.”
Reacting to Haney’s announcement Thursday, Breed told reporters that “it’s really unfortunate that the supervisor spends a lot of time chasing headlines instead of doing his homework to get the facts.”
“The fact is the City Attorney’s office is an independently elected city attorney, and I asked him to do an investigation three days ago when all of this stuff occurred, so I think that needs to be made clear because its happening as we speak,” Breed said.
Breed said she remained open to restructuring Public Works, but would await the results of the review before she decided how best to “to improve upon our system so that this doesn’t happen again.”
The federal investigation is ongoing.
“I think it’s possible that there will be more indictments,” Haney said. “I definitely would not be surprised if this goes further than solely director Nuru and Mr. Bovis.”