A hearing held today regarding Mayor London Breed’s hastily abandoned routine of soliciting preemptive resignation letters from her commission appointees reaffirmed that the mayor maintained sole discretion over how she carried out the controversial practice.
“I think what we learned at the hearing was confirmation that these letters were at the discretion of the mayor, decided on a case-by-case basis for reasons that no one has provided an explanation for,” Supervisor Dean Preston told Mission Local following today’s hearing.
Days after San Francisco Standard’s Michael Barba first reported on the practice last month, Breed stated she would curtail it. Two days later, the City Attorney stated that a court would “very likely conclude” that such a letter of resignation is unenforceable.
Sean Elsbernd, the mayor’s chief of staff, answered questions in her stead today during the hearing held at the Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee. The reason for soliciting letters of resignation, Elsbernd said, was to have an effective means of removing commissioners who were derelict of duty; he referenced Mel Murphy, who took eons to be cajoled off the Port Committee in 2015.
“As we saw with Commissioner Murphy, that process was not efficient,” Elsbernd said.
This didn’t make sense to the supervisors, however; letters of inquiry from Preston’s office and public records requests have revealed that, out of some 400 mayoral appointees, only around 49 turned in preemptive letters of resignation.
Asked why the mayor only solicited letters of resignation from certain commissioners, Elsbernd said, “The mayor clearly had a subjective standard here. Sometimes, she directed it. Sometimes, she did not.”
The notion that the letters were reserved solely for the Mel Murphys of the world did not hold water with Preston.
If the purpose was to be able to eject commissioners who committed malfeasance or went AWOL, “they would have been required of every commissioner,” he said. “It makes absolutely no sense, if those were the purposes, why the mayor would not have required every person.”
Fielding questions from the supervisors, Elsbernd said that practice began early in Breed’s tenure. Asked if he questioned whether it was a good idea to require them, he said, “The mayor gave her directions and, as staff, we implemented her directions.”
Regarding whether there was any pushback on the practice among staff, Elsbernd said, “As we do with all conversations, as we do with all issues, we had a full and robust conversation.”
Elsbernd added that he wasn’t aware of an instance where an appointee refused to sign. He added that no appointee was required to sign a letter of resignation to be nominated by the mayor, and it was optional for them to do so. But when asked, he added that he didn’t recall seeing the word “optional” in the relevant documents.
Elsbernd said that he was not aware of the mayor ever bringing up the preemptive resignation letters with any commissioner when there was a disagreement with them on certain issues, and that it was never the intent.
“I would not agree that it creates an opportunity for abuse because, knowing this mayor and why this was done, it was never going to be abused,” Elsbernd said. “That said, I agree with you that it could create [that] perception. But factually, it never was and never would be.”
Questioned further about how the mayor determined which appointees are solicited for the letters, he said, “You’re asking me to get into the mayor’s head and figure out the calculus, and [that’s] not something I’m capable of doing.”