Photo by @RecParkSF

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.

Regular pay

Overtime pay

Other pay

2011

$28,181

2012

$74,984

2013

$102,301

2014

$101,477

2015

$99,002

Year

2016

$103,910

2017

$109,272

2018

$119,429

2019

$114,263

2020

$117,550

2021

$65,539

0

20

40

60

80

180

200

220

100

120

140

160

Dollar earnings (1000s)

Over the past decade, Head Ranger

Marcus Santiago has collected over

$1 million in overtime pay.

Regular pay

Overtime pay

Other pay

2011

$28,181

2012

$74,984

2013

$102,301

2014

$101,477

2015

$99,002

2016

$103,910

2017

$109,272

2018

$119,429

2019

$114,263

2020

$117,550

2021

$65,539

0

40

80

200

120

160

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. 

Marcus Santiago enjoys a rare moment off in 2018

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. 

In this Nov. 5 email, Interim Chief Marcus Santiago solicits for overtime work more than a month off — after having taken his favored shifts. His colleagues said this is a violation of departmental rules; this transaction should have been handled on the automated Telestaff system. In a screen capture of that system, Santiago appears to manually override it, generating and quickly self-assigning an overtime shift.

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.”  

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. Joe,
    Who is the current ‘chief’ of the Park Patrol? I’d like to contact that person about rangers allegedly harassing people operating gas powered model boats at Spreckels Lake. They’re legal, as long as they obey the 15 MPH speed limit, which my friends were complying with. Do you have an e-mail or a phone #? Thank you

  2. All administration officials since W. Brown are involved in the current culture of corruption! Must clean house,any and all commissions…appointed by mayor…🤑🤑🤑😎😎😎😎

  3. What’s the plan to finally racially desegregate the workplace in the City and County of San Francisco to ensure that members of ethnicities do not jealously guard city employment and overtime, reserving them for allocation only to members of that ethnicity?

  4. Btw, a proper background on Santiago prior to his employment with Parks and Rec..should have been immediately deemed unsuitable for any position involving trust and public safety.

  5. I had the misfortune of working with Santiago at OHA back in 1991-92. He’s as shady as they come..and is a clever self preservationist. He has never aspired to being a real cop..so he finds Security type gigs, and trys to turn them into LE certified agencies..only way he can call himself a cop. Good work and article on this unethical hoarder..can’t believe after all this time he’s still slipping through the cracks. Someone needs to step in and put an end to this old-school type corruption.

  6. Fire this clown and hire responsible adults ,to patrol our parks,highway robbery at its finest ,now let see what the .ayor and the parks department heads do about this

    1. Juan and all,

      Recall my first comment.

      This fine group leaped fully grown out of Dede Wilsey’s head like Hiernymus Bosch would say.

      I think Willie gave her exactly what she wanted and still wants in this Santiago dude.

      She also plucked Phil Ginsberg from being Chief of Staff to the Mayor to demote him to more closely run Park and Rec as the Swells led by her so willed.

      Hell, even Jim Sutton heels for her.

      You read her stepson’s book by the way?

      Go Niners!

      h.

  7. it seem unbelievable that nothing has been done, to correct this injustice since I was forced to retire in nov. 2009. Santiago checkered past even made a segment on 60 minutes back in the early 90’s where he threw in his co-workers, who all did time in federal prison. He was fired the next year, for more infractions…….He has been enabled to get away with this by Phil Ginsburg, and Dennis Kern, is the obvious ……..

    1. Mike,

      Willie has always hired almost exclusively people whom he could blackmail if they crossed him.

      For years he refused to make department heads ‘permanent’ for the same reason.

      I cannot for the life of me understand why I never became an employee and close personal confidant to this man.

      lol

      h.

  8. I guess Park Rangers aren’t unionized? Overtime in Union Shops follow fair & equitable guidelines for all employees. I don’t mind someone working a bunch of O/T if they choose, but not at the expense of their fellow co-workers. If your article is true, and I believe it is, I see criminal activity on Santiago’s part, maybe prison time. Where’s the City Attorney on this? Another corrupt City Department exposed Mission Local. Once again a fine job by you, Joe..

      1. Of course the SF Park Rangers are unionized. Sadly, it’s often municipal union employees that get away with the worst, most corrupt behavior and are the most difficult to fire. This corruption reflects poorly on the original intent of unions: protect the right of workers. Sadly, many municipal union employees use their contracts to extract maximum benefit from deep pocket city revenue sources.

        1. Joe — 

          You’re a bit off the mark here. Santiago is management, and his behavior is impacting the unionized workforce — and purportedly contravenes the union-negotiated pact on how overtime is distributed. .

          JE

  9. Ms. Mayor Breed, FIRE Phil Ginsburg and all the ParK Commissioners who have turned a blind eye to this deceit and corruption, the buck starts there and who knows where it ends…..Thank you Mission Local for once again exposing the putrid bureaucratic corruption aided and abetted by our esteemed Local Officials.

  10. This partially explains why The City’s budget is so very far out of line from that of comparable cities. 🤬 At what point do we hold the Mayor responsible?

  11. Is there any SF City department that isn’t corrupt and/or incompetent?
    Thanks Joe E for all your great articles.

  12. I’ve got nothing against people putting in over time and doing good work. But the corruption has to end, and those responsible made accountable. SF shouldn’t be bleeding money for nothing. There are roads to fix, and people to be fired. So let’s get on with it.

  13. Joe,

    Blame it on Dede and Willy.

    There weren’t any Park Rangers at all 20 or so years back when Dede Wilsey went to Willie Brown and told her that she needed the City to pay for security at her events and he hired a few ‘Rent-a-cops’ types.

    But, and this is a big ‘but’.

    He made them permanent City employees.

    Then, like any Empire Builder she wanted more ‘Park Rangers’.

    SF cops had done the job for a hundred years but Dede wanted this separate force.

    Then, the Park Rangers started acting like the untrained or simply thuggish people which is what got them hired in the first place.

    For years they demanded guns and the cops opposed it.

    Don’t know whatever became of that issue.

    I’ll check when I jog around Dolores Park in few minutes.

    Just don’t forget where this thing started.

    All credit to Dede and Willy.

    Go Niners!

    h.

        1. Daniel’s right,

          Specials go back to 1850 when they were recruited from amongst the Vigilantes who raided the jail and disbanded the crooks running it and hung a few occupants thereof.

          Cops have hated them since and have them down to only one or two remaining districts.

          Cops were cold enuff to give former Specials’ Chief, Jane Warner a ticket for jaywalking on her beat in the heart of the Castrol on Halloween then harassing her on her death bed.

          Oh yeah, nice people these POA led cops.

          Looks like Niners could lose 7 games and win the Super Bowl.

          lol

          h.

    1. I’ve worked for Filipino bosses and they run patronage system were they get a kick back from their workers in exchange for lite duty jobs. The one I worked for, had several of his staff at his home on weekends doing yard and house work for him. This guy is no different.. crooked to the bone and perfect for San Francisco

      1. Haa, that was a racist comment if ever there was one. Greed, graft and corruption covers the whole color spectrum and in this town it definitely doesn’t discriminate.

      2. Santiago is of Filipino and Chinese descent. Although, he may favor a few of the Filipino and Chinese Park Rangers, he definitely does not favor those that have integrity and don’t engage in shady behavior like him. Santiago gets away with a lot which begs the answers to the questions, “Why do Phil and Denny both continue to allow it? What do they possibly have to gain or benefit from it? Also, you can count out the possibility of Mayor Breed doing anything about Phil, Denny, or Santiago, since they’re all “pals”.