Newsom defends his staff payroll again

After being scrutinized for using hundreds of thousands of Muni dollars to pay for staff positions, Mayor Gavin Newsom went on the defense Friday, saying a new audit claiming that $900,000 in salaries for mayoral staff that is being paid for by more than a handful departments is misleading.

“This report comes out — it’s going to make it look like we’re spending $800,000 more [on positions] — that is just simply false,” Newsom said.

A draft copy of the audit, obtained by The Examiner, says eight positions within the Mayor’s Office are paid for with money from the Public Utilities Commission, the Municipal Transportation Agency, the Planning Department and the Human Services Agency. The costs of the eight positions total $959,903, according to the report. The completed report is scheduled for release on Monday.

The audit was conducted by Board of Supervisors Budget Analyst Harvey Rose, at the request of Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, after the mayor announced a multitude of staff changes and promotions in January and concerns began to swirl about the funding for the positions.

The audit also came a week after it was revealed that the mayor was funding positions with dollars from cash-strapped Muni.

The Board of Supervisors could consider rescinding the funding for positions, but on Friday, McGoldrick and board President Aaron Peskin, who has publicly criticized the mayor for the staff spending, told The Examiner that they could not comment on the audit because they had not reviewed it.

The mayor’s chief of staff, Phil Ginsberg, said Friday only two new positions were added — Climate Protection Initiatives Director Wade Crowfoot and Homelessness Policy Director Dariush Kayhan — and the remaining were existing positions that had already passed through budget approval.

“It’s just bulls—,” Ginsberg said of the report.

The mayor justified spending the money on the positions, saying they were related to the departments from where they were funded. Additionally, one of the eight positions is now vacant, Ginsberg said.

Stuart Sunshine, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff focusing on transit, whose $217,000 annual salary is 60 percent funded by Muni, has resigned to pursue a job in the private sector. His position will not be filled until the summer, Newsom said.

The report was not supposed to be released until it was finalized, said a notably irate Rose, who said it was “unprecedented” for a mayor to publicly comment on a draft report.

“I can assure that this report was prepared in a totally professional and objective manner,” Rose said. “What is false and wrong is for the mayor to hold a press conference” on the report, he said.

dsmith@examiner.com

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