Panel OKs DBI ethics rules

Stringent rules aimed at halting moonlighting among employees at The City’s embattled Department of Building Inspection received preliminary approval Monday night despite concerns from employees and unions that the new regulations go too far.

The San Francisco Ethics Commission’s unanimous vote is the first step to make official new conflict-of-interest standards for employees of the department tasked with enforcing, inspecting and issuing permits related to housing codes and construction.

The new standards evolved over two years amid allegations of corruption, two grand jury reports and FBI raids of the department. The most recent FBI raid was in July.

Critics have long charged that some employees benefited financially from the purchase of properties using knowledge obtained through DBI files, and that others cut corners in the permitting process for themselves or others, among other charges. Mayor Gavin Newsom last year tapped Amy Lee as the new acting director in an effort to reform what a 2003 civil grand jury report called a “deeply ingrained” culture of favoritism.

A grand jury report released in June found that improvements had been made.

Among the regulations in the draft nine-page Statement of Incompatible Activities, employees are banned from taking on jobs outside work that involve department approvals, are not allowed to use nonpublic information for personal gain and may not hold an active contractor’s license. Doing work for money or other gains on a building not owned by the employee is not permitted under the new guidelines.

DBI employees would also be barred from helping others prepare paperwork or proposals destined for the department and from using information obtained in their jobs to help them decide whether to purchase a property.

Some questioned the rules’ validity and constitutionality.

GarlandSimpson, a DBI employee and member of the Service Employees International Union, said the new rules seek to limit the wealth of employees.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are given to me in the Constitution,” Simpson said. “Happiness is wealth. This is limiting me.”

Commission member Eileen Hansen said the rules don’t limit a person’s ability to purchase property but do question how he or she comes to own a piece of property.

Last week, Mayor Gavin Newsom met with Lee and John St. Croix, executive director of the Ethics Commission, in an effort to come up with what Newsom considers the toughest ethics standards in The City.

Newsom said the changes could cause some employees to choose to quit, but that’s not a deterrent.

“That’s a risk we need to take, because I think it’s wrong that people are doing two jobs, three jobs, when they’re supposed to be working exclusively for us,” Newsom said.

The proposed changes would diminish the quality of DBI employees since many who have contractors’ licenses are experienced and know their trade, said Joe O’Donoghue, of the Residential Builders Association.

mcarroll@examiner.com

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