Commission Joins Public in Denouncing Newsom’s Suppression of DBI Report

by Randy Shaw on August 10, 2004

The Building Inspection Commission held a hearing yesterday on Mayoral assistant Rudy Nothenberg’s recent report on the Building Department. Speakers focused on the Mayor’s hiding the report from the Board of Supervisors for over one month, a delay that prevented the Board from learning that the mayor’s seizure of $6.5 million in DBI funds was opposed by his hand-picked investigator. Newly appointed Commissioner Noelle Hanrahan called upon Mayor Newsom to explain his concealment of the report, which many speakers felt demonstrated his political vendetta against DBI.

There was unanimity among speakers that Rudy Nothenberg was unfit to write a report about the Department, whose creation pushed him into retirement in 1995 and which he still thinks is a bad idea. Commissioner Bobbie Sue Hood noted that while Nothenberg promised the Commission on April 19 that he would submit a draft of his report for their review, he failed to do so.

Hood also noted that the Director of DBI and the President of the Commission did not learn of the report’s availability until it was e-mailed to them by the San Francisco Chronicle. She joined speakers in questioning the motive of the Mayor’s Office in distributing the document to the media before the Department itself.

Joe O’Donoghue joined other speakers in concluding that Mayor Newsom has singled out DBI for attacks because he and others associated with the agency supported Matt Gonzalez.

O’Donoghue told the Commissioners that he was “proud to have supported Matt Gonzalez, would still support Matt Gonzalez, and knows many people who voted for Newsom and now wish they had voted for Matt Gonzalez.”

O’Donoghue also called on the Mayor to end his “political vendetta” against DBI, and demanded a public investigation into Newsom’s concealment of a key budget document until the Board had approved the Mayor’s seizure of $6.5 million in DBI funds. He said that the Mayor’s suppression of a public document was a betrayal of the public trust “just like Watergate,” and that the Mayor appeared to be taking his political advice in dealing with DBI from the controversial non-profit executive , Julie Lee.

Assistant Director Amy Lee (no relation) told the Commission that some of Nothenberg’s recommendations require expenditures that now cannot be made due to the Mayor’s transfer of DBI funds. She explained how the Mayor’s Office even took away DBI’s personnel department, despite the agency’s having the funds to maintain its staff.

Commissioner Roy Guinnane noted that Nothenberg had simply based his report on testimony included in the minutes of Commission meetings. Commissioner Hanrahan joined Guinnane in questioning the report’s methodology, expressing great surprise that Mayor Newsom had never put in writing the objectives, goals or procedures for the investigation.

Acting Director Jim Hutchinson told the Commission that the Controller had recently conducted an independent study of DBI and found that 85% of consumers had positive views of the Department. He questioned whether any city agency would receive such high marks.

While nearly every aspect of the Nothenberg report was challenged, the Commission was most troubled by what they described as the Mayor’s delaying its release.

Nothenberg submitted the report to the Mayor on June 4, just as the Board was beginning hearings on a mayor’s budget that called for the transfer of $6.5 million from DBI to other city agencies. One of the key findings in the report was that this proposed transfer would weaken DBI’s ability to fulfill its mission.

The report then sat in the Mayor’s Office until late July, after the Board had approved the transfer of DBI funds.

The Commissioners and nearly all speakers questioned why the Board was not told before it was too late that the Mayor’s hand-picked “monitor” of DBI had issued a report strongly opposing the Mayor’s planned elimination of DBI funds.

Was the Mayor afraid that releasing this information would cause the Board to rethink its support of the transfer? If not, why did the Mayor deny the legislative body access to information that could impact their vote?

The DBI Commission decided at the end of the meeting to write a letter to the Mayor requesting answers to these questions.

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