The numbers simply beggar belief. In fiscal 2020, San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department head ranger Marcus Santiago worked 1,720 overtime hours, nearly 35 a week. That’s on top of his regular schedule, so Santiago was averaging 76 hours a week.
Santiago worked one out of every 25 overtime hours for Recreation and Park that year, in a department with nearly 2,300 people on its payroll. He amassed 90 times more overtime than the average Rec and Parks worker.
And, astoundingly, this is typical. Santiago actually worked more the prior year, 1,733 hours. Going back a decade, he has earned more than $1 million in overtime.
Between fiscal 2013 and 2020, he took home more than $99,000 in overtime every year. He topped out in 2020 with $117,550 in overtime pay, more than doubling his salary — per usual.
And everybody in a position to do something about this already knows. And long has: In 2010, my colleague Matt Smith wrote a particularly thorough and damning article about Santiago in SF Weekly.
It detailed how his overtime-hoarding was done with the explicit knowledge of Rec and Parks higher-ups Phil Ginsburg and Dennis Kern. But it did much more than that.
Over the past decade, Head Ranger Marcus Santiago
has collected over $1 million in overtime pay.
Dollar earnings (1000s)
Over the past decade, Head Ranger
Marcus Santiago has collected over
$1 million in overtime pay.
Dollar earnings (1000s)
Data from Transparent California and the Office of the Controller. Each bar captures the fiscal year from July–June. Graph by Will Jarrett.
It revealed how Santiago had failed to disclose to the Rec and Parks Department that he’d been fired from the corruption-plagued Oakland Housing Authority Police Department for purportedly misappropriating evidence and abusing people in custody. Smith’s article explained how Santiago had carved out a role of demanding anyone putting on an event hosted on park property hire him or his guys to work “security” — and then they might or might not show up. In short, Smith retraced how Santiago had dubiously transformed the small Park Patrol squad into a well-staffed, money-generating machine, and personally benefited in no small part with those gaudy overtime payments.
In the same year as that story, a former park ranger named Mike Horan won a $250,000 settlement in his suit vs. Santiago and the city. Horan alleged that Santiago, who is Filipino American, was improperly hoarding overtime and would only divvy it out to his cadre of Asian American pals. Horan also claimed Santiago and his cronies harassed and physically threatened him.
Following that settlement and the publication of Smith’s article, Rec and Parks came up with a “solution:” A solution that, in so many ways, explains why things in San Francisco are as they are.
Rather than deal with the documented misdeeds of Marcus Santiago or the department higher-ups who coddled and enabled him, Rec and Park brought in a new “Chief Park Ranger” to serve as a buffer. This non-solution solution required the hiring of a $156,000-a-year chief — who, evidently, did nothing to prevent Santiago from continuing to double his salary with overtime every year.
Santiago’s M.O. seems hardly to have changed. In fact, the department’s interim chief park ranger since January has been … Marcus Santiago. Santiago has also, since January, often found himself placed in charge of allocating overtime, a personnel decision akin to assigning Hannibal Lecter to work in the kitchen.
So that’s what we know, and what has been known for a long while. But Mission Local has obtained more: Numerous written records in which Santiago appears to either bypass or manually override the systems meant to ensure equitable distribution of overtime.
Systems, it would seem, that exist because of him.
Marcus Santiago worked as much overtime in fiscal year 2020 as 90 typical Parks employees.
Data from the Office of the Controller. Graph by Will Jarrett.
Overtime for park rangers isn’t divvied out via a clipboard hanging on the wall anymore. Now it’s done via a scheduling program called “Telestaff.” Like Ron Popeil’s spinning meat cookers, you set it and forget it; the program offers overtime slots to eligible staffers and continues to do so until all open assignments are filled.
But Mission Local has obtained numerous emails from Santiago to his staff in which he solicits his colleagues to fill the next month’s overtime slots, but not before self-assigning his preferred slots.
“Overtime is supposed to be distributed evenly, and on a rotational basis,” explains a department worker. “What should happen is, this should’ve been in Telestaff, and the system should’ve made notifications. This is Marcus circumventing the system.”
Mission Local has additionally obtained numerous files in which it appears that Santiago has manually overridden the Telestaff system to create and immediately self-assign overtime.
This is not how Telestaff, or overtime assignment, is supposed to work. It is, again, a “set it and forget it”-like system. An event is entered into Telestaff, the system automatically notifies eligible rangers, going down the list until the assignment is accepted. It then notifies the ranger who ultimately receives the assignment. There is a data trail for all of this.
In numerous instances obtained by Mission Local, the data trail simply states that the entry was created “by” Santiago “for” Santiago; the timestamps indicate that, far from a litany of rangers being notified, these were near-instantaneous transactions.
Santiago, of course, racked up the overtime even before he found himself placed in charge of handing it out this year. Insiders say that, if Telestaff can’t find a taker for an overtime slot, one of Santiago’s colleagues will send out an email. Santiago — somehow — knows just when those emails are being sent. And that seems to happen when he’s in front of his computer and rangers working other shifts are commuting or sleeping.
Our message to Recreation and Parks general manager Phil Ginsburg, operations manager Dennis Kern and Santiago himself asking for an explanation was not returned. Santiago picked up his desk phone — on the first ring — but said he was told that answers would be provided by the department’s communications staff.
A Rec and Parks spokesperson said that it’s possible that Santiago could post an overtime opportunity on Telestaff, sign up for it himself, and, if nobody else wants it, end up with it. And it’s possible he could assign overtime by email in “rare emergency situations.”
So that’s possible. But that’s not what happened here. In the instances obtained by Mission Local, in which Santiago appears to have manually overridden Telestaff — and there are many — the timestamps indicate he created and rapidly self-assigned the overtime assignment. If notifications were made to other rangers, there would be data trails. There do not appear to be any.
And the emails obtained by Mission Local — and there are many — were sent out regularly, weeks ahead of time, and with Santiago always first doling out his favored shifts to himself.
“The system had been put in place to stop Marcus from doing what he did previously, and continues to do,” summed up a fellow Rec and Parks employee. “He found a backdoor way to do this. And nobody checks.”
The written evidence, in short, does not look good. But it only quantifies what everyone knew was happening and signed off on, for decades. And that looks even worse.
Far from having his wings clipped after the settlement and Smith article in 2010, Santiago has only made himself more and more invaluable to the department. Anyone hoping to put on an event on park property must get his approval for a road closure or security plan, and if Santiago suggests a certain number of rangers are required — and he is required to supervise them — applicants would be well-advised to take his suggestion.
Internally, he handles arcana down to payroll and alarm systems — and, co-workers say, refuses to delegate these tasks.
“If anything happened to him, we would be crippled,” says one. “Because he will not share.”
That may explain why, despite the prolific (and prolifically documented) overtime hoarding, and despite lawsuits and grievances claiming discrimination and harassment, Santiago is still working his 76-hour, 7-day weeks. But there are other reasons, too: His bosses, Ginsburg and Kern, may appreciate his constant working and micromanaging and incessant revenue-generation. He’s there because they want him there.
“That’s the key to the whole thing,” says Horan, who won that quarter-million dollar settlement in 2010. “That’s kept everything going.”
Horan, now 77, was a former New York cop in Albany. He’d had his fill of law-enforcement and didn’t see being a park ranger as a law-enforcement job. “I didn’t go into this job looking for power,” he says. He just wanted to help people out.
He did not take kindly, he says, to watching Santiago and “five or six” of his cronies “showing up and harassing homeless people. They’re so terrified, trying to be powerful, that they are a danger to everybody.”
“These guys,” he says in an East Coast brogue, “couldn’t catch a fart in a phone booth.”
Department higher-ups, he continues, are condoning duplicative and “invented work; they’re not serving the people.”
“Jesus Christ, I’m no saint. I’ve seen this, that, and the other. But I’ve never seen a circus like this place. And Ray Charles could see that there’s something really wrong here.”