Sunday, June 03, 2012

City Hall: No Idea How Much $$
In SF Mayor's Six Special Funds

A week before Christmas last December the SF Chronicle reported that more than $800,000 was sitting in the Mayor's Homeless Fund and not being spent to provide housing vouchers for homeless families. Turns out that fund was a component of Mayor Ed Lee's outreach for additional donations especially from new media and business titans, according to the paper:

Lee [in November 2011] launched, an online portal to donate to the city and is focusing on pursuing philanthropy from tech leaders and others to help fill gaps left by diminishing state and federal grants.

Now that everyone was aware of the homeless fund, the mayor's team made promises of accountability to the Chronicle:

Christine Falvey, Lee’s spokeswoman, said that if a certain donation is tagged for a project that needs more funds or intense planning, it may take a while to spend. But that in general, “The funds are going to be monitored, and we’re going to make sure they’re being spent down and given to the communities in need.”

Almost six-months later, I contacted the mayor's team for answers about the six special funds listed at the Give2SF site. It was news to me that in addition to the homeless fund, there were five other funds. I eventually heard from Joan Lubamersky from the General Services Agency, who has oversight of the funds and we had these exchanges:

MP to Lubamersky: Yes, my questions about following the money for those six funds are what I wish to explore. Is there a way to find out what's available for public inspection that does not require a public records request? That's my top concern today and learning more about the city's promise to make some of the donor info open on the web, but as of today is not online. 

Lubamersky to MP: I will provide you a more complete response, hopefully tomorrow. The funds receiving the donations post them on their departmental or program websites. There is no central listing.
MP to Lubamerskyu: I've checked the Give2SF page for the six separate funds that are part of Give2SF and wish to point out that three of the funds - disaster recovery, city services preservation, mayor's fund for the homeless - do not have department or programs pages, or, if they do they are not linked to from the GSA page. The three other funds - voluntary arts, neighborhood beautification, recreation and parks - do have links to their departments but at those links there is no info about the donations. This lack of any info from any of the funds or their responsible needs to be addressed by City Hall. I hope you can provide me with some basic answers today about why the promised info cannot be found on various city sites and pages, as we also discuss what documents are kept by the city and open for public inspection regarding the money donated.

Lubamersky to MPIt is true that some programs do not have websites. We are working on that. My delay in responding to you is partly due to my needing to gather information from the six programs in order to provide you an accurate reply. One response I can provide now, however, is that each department reports to the Board of Supervisors during the first two weeks of July on gifts they receive and on the disposition of those funds.

The mayor and his team have broken the promise of monitoring. Annual disclosing is not sufficient transparency that is needed year-round. I suggest monthly disclosure to the public of amounts received, from whom and how they were dispersed by each of the six funds, and all details should be disclosed on the Give2SF site.

Are any laws being broken here? I don't know and wonder if the City Attorney or the Ethics Commission should be asked to weigh in on this lack of transparency and municipal law. Give2SF's page for FAQs cites this statute mandating disclosure:

No official or employee or agent of the City shall accept, allow to be collected, or direct or influence the spending of, any money, or any goods or services worth more than one hundred dollars in aggregate, for the purpose of carrying out or assisting any City function unless the amount and source of all such funds is disclosed as a public record and made available on the website for the department to which the funds are directed.

Mayor Ed Lee owes the public lots of answers about these funds, how they're administered and if he's done any reaching out to tech leaders for contributions to the funds. The answers should be shared this week.

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