Supes to appoint long-time good government advocate Larry Bush to serve on SF’s Ethics Commission

Ronen: ‘We should not have to rely on the FBI to keep San Francisco clean’

Larry Bush (Courtesy photo)

In 1993, Larry Bush helped craft the voter-approved ballot measure that created the Ethics Commission. Now he is expected to serve on it.

The once senior aide to former Mayor Art Agnos and a founder of the watchdog group Friends of Ethics, Bush was approved unanimously Monday to serve on the Ethics Commission by the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen voted for Bush along with supervisors Gordon Mar and Catherine Stefani. The full board is expected to vote next week to confirm the appointment for a term that would end Feb. 1, 2023.

Ronen said Bush has a “tremendous history and experience with the Ethics Commission as well as city government in general” and said The City needs a stronger Ethics Commission, as evidenced by the corruption scandal that rocked City Hall earlier this year.

“We should not have to rely on the FBI to keep San Francisco clean and honest,” Ronen said.

In January, former Public Works director Mohammed Nuru and local restaurateur Nick Bovis were arrested and charged by federal prosecutors with one count of wire fraud in an alleged scheme to bribe a former airport commissioner for a lease at the San Francisco International Airport. A federal complaint detailed a number of other alleged schemes.

Bovis has since pleaded guilty to charges and agreed to cooperate with federal authorities.

Amid the corruption probe, Mayor London Breed announced in February that she had accepted a gift from Nuru for car repairs and a rental. She said then she had no knowledge of the allegations and that “I never asked Mohammed Nuru to do anything improper, and he never asked me to do anything improper.”

She recently disclosed the gift, as she said she would, in her statement of economic interest form 700, which was due June 1 after the filing deadline was extended from April 1 due to COVID-19. The filing was for any gifts received in 2019.

The disclosure shows a gift of $719.29 on Dec. 24, 2019 for a car rental and a gift of $4,809.48 for car repair on Jan. 10, 2019. There is a note that states the two disclosed gifts were voluntarily reported but “nonreportable” under California Fair Political Practices Commission regulations that allow gift limit exceptions from “an individual with whom the official has a long term, close personal friendship.” Breed had announced she dated Nuru in the past and remained friends with him.

Critics, however, said the arrangement may run afoul of local ethic laws that prohibit receiving gifts from a subordinate. The Ethics Commission enforces city ethics laws and can assess penalties.

Bush noted that the seat he has applied for is designated for public outreach and public participation, and one of the things he’d like to do is make more of the records more easily accessible to the public. He noted that the Nuru corruption scandal involves Nuru allegedly asking people to make what are known as behested payments, payments to third parties at his direction.

He said while there are requirements to report behested payments they are not easily searchable online.

“You couldn’t go through and say I want to search contributions that are coming from city contractors or people who have permit requests, or something of that nature,” Bush said. “I think that that is a fairly easy fix to be done right away.”

He also said that he’d like more transparency around the status of a filed ethics complaint.

“If you have a whistleblower complaint that comes in or any other kind of complaint, it is supposed to go to the city attorney and to the district attorney,” Bush said. “But when they are sent over there, there is no record that they were sent there and there is no record that they came back.”

He added, “It is really a question of if you want to do something that is going to happen within a month, those are dots that can be connected to make people feel like they are being listened to and empowered.”

Bush also said that when it comes to budgeting for the Ethics Commission, what is left out of the discussion is what the body is not able to do.

He said the proposal will tell you what the body can do for the money it is allocated, but fails to mention “it won’t have the necessary funding to do the annual report of what the ethics commission has been doing, which they haven’t done for five years” or other things like auditing “at least one lobbyist every year and they have haven’t done that in five years.”

“I would suggest that when they present a budget this coming year they tell you what’s not going to be done that was part of their mandate, so that you have a decision whether or not that’s what you think the priorities ought to be,” Bush said.

Former Ethics Commissioner and retired judge Quentin Kopp backed Bush’s application.

“At a time in which few people pay attention to the San Francisco Ethics Commission or even know of its existence despite the federal prosecution of former city government officials for criminal violations in local government affairs, Mr. Bush will restore the desired rationale for voter-creation of the Ethics Commission decades ago,” he wrote in a letter to the Board of Supervisors.

Mar said Bush was “immensely qualified” and emphasized the importance of the Ethics Commission to fulfill its duties when there is “so much public attention focused on the need to really address and root out casual corruption in our city government.”

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The Board of Supervisors Rules Committee voted 3-0 on June 8 to approve Larry Bush’s application to serve on the Ethics Commission.

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