Talk about witness intimidation

The atmosphere was jovial and insular last Thursday afternoon as supporters of suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi sat on the ground or in lawn chairs outside the hearing room where the Ethics Commission would soon consider whether he should be permanently removed from office.

I arrived at City Hall at 3:30 p.m. Doors opened at 5 p.m. and I wanted to be sure to get a seat. Four people were already lined up, one coming all the way from Oakland. One by one, as others joined the line, there were laughs, hugs, and “great to see you’s” as they giddily exchanged stickers, signs and buttons that said “Stand with Ross.”

There was even a card people could sign letting Mirkarimi know they were present and supporting him.

The murmur of gossip about the case danced down the line. “I heard Ivory Madison is a double agent.” And, “Madison’s pregnancy is fake.” A few were trying to figure out how to sneak in a large banner.

I got in and found a seat, but the room was too small to accommodate all the onlookers. Those who were still standing outside alerted us to Mirkarimi’s arrival by chanting “Ross! Ross! Ross!”

In walked Eliana Lopez’s attorney Paula Canny, who walked up to Mirkarimi’s attorney Shepard Kopp and shared a big hug with him. Then Mirkarimi entered the room to a standing ovation.

Before sitting down in the front of the room, Mirkarimi toured the largely female audience shaking hands and saying, “It’s nice to see you again.”

The hearing began with some more procedural issues and the commission chairman doing most of the talking. But when Commissioner Dorothy Liu spoke — Mirkarimi voted for her when she was appointed to the commission by the Board of Supervisors last year — the woman in front of me lowered her “Respect Eliana” sign just long enough to snap, “I don’t like her” to her neighbor, who nodded in agreement.

At every single hearing so far, the chairman has had to threaten to remove some of Mirkarimi’s supporters for behaving badly. I don’t know what’s more ironic: that the Sheriff’s Department keeps getting called in to control a hearing about misconduct by the sheriff, or that a room full of people who think Ivory Madison wrongly pretended to be a lawyer believe themselves to be legal scholars, entitled to grunt and clack when they disagree with the commission’s rulings or a question by the city attorney.

In a letter dated June 18, the city attorney informed the commissioners of “incidents in overflow and hearing rooms and in the hallways of City Hall, in which supporters of the Sheriff verbally harassed and intimidated these advocates and direct service providers — many of whom are themselves survivors of domestic violence.” One advocate told me she was hissed at and physically pushed by a Mirkarimi supporter at a prior hearing.

When the commission clerk said he had received a call from Madison’s lawyer saying she would rather not testify in person, there was audible satisfaction in the room. The raucous and vicious gallery had won.

In a case that hinges on whether Mirkarimi threatened or intimidated witnesses, that his supporters are happily doing the same thing does nothing to help him appear less guilty — and everything to undermine decades of efforts to get people to report domestic violence. Shameful.

Delaying the day of reckoning

Mayor Ed Lee recently negotiated contracts with The City’s public employees unions, and the Board of Supervisors approved them. By law, the City Controller’s Office has to issue an analysis of each of the contracts. According to those reports, the only savings in these contracts result from a small increase in the cost of dental insurance for some unions and a change that means The City will only pay 90 percent of medical premiums for single employees as of 2014.

Deputy probation officers and airport mechanics got an immediate 7.15 percent raise in exchange for agreeing to pay their own retirement contribution amount (9 percent of wages) to CalPERS.
Although no employees got an outright raise this year, the elimination of the 12 furlough days that appeared in prior contracts produces an effective wage increase of 4.6 percent. Most employees will get raises of 1 percent on July 1, 2013, January 4, 2014 and March 29, 2014.

  • Increased costs for FY 2012-2013: $3,489,000
  • Increased costs for FY 2013-2014: $37,571,000
  • Day of reckoning: ???

Too many nuts, not enough squirrels

The budget committee of the Board of Supervisors has completed its task of finalizing a budget for fiscal year 2012-2013. The full board will vote on the plan July 17 or July 24. This annual task is arduous, but if you have the patience for it, some parts are really interesting.

Each year, departments submit their budgets and the budget analyst says yes or no to certain items. Harvey Rose, city budget analyst, is one of my favorite people at City Hall. This lovable curmudgeon stands right up in the budget committee hearings and defends his cuts, scolds department heads for submitting information late, and this year accused one of misusing funds. I want to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner.

The five supervisors who sit on the budget committee then vote to agree with the budget analyst or the department. After considering each department, there is a pool of money left over from the cuts.

The committee then goes into recess so it can decide where to add the money back in. This requires supervisors and their aides to scurry around carrying scraps of paper, darting back and forth between offices like nerdy squirrels.

When the effort is complete, the committee reconvenes and makes all the agreed-upon changes. This year, the budget committee gave each member of the Board of Supervisors an additional legislative aide at a total cost of $1.5 million dollars. Apparently, they need more squirrels.

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