Mayoral chief-of-staff Sean Elsbernd today told the Board that Mayor London Breed 'clearly had a subjective standard' when it came to requiring appointees to sign preemptive resignation letters. 'Sometimes she directed it, sometimes she did not.'

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.”

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David’s one of those San Francisco natives who gets excited whenever City College is mentioned. He has journalism degrees from there and San Francisco State University, graduating from the latter in May 2021. In college, David played five different roles as an editor at student news publications and reported as an intern for three local newspapers, mostly while waiting tables at the Alamo Drafthouse. His first job was at Mitchell's Ice Cream.

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  1. “. . . because knowing this mayor and why this was done, it was never going to be abused,” Elsbernd said.”

    Such a confident affirmation. Sounds like he kicked aside the ladder after he climbed into her head to take up residence.

    1. …….after snarkily and repeatedly dodging questions from the supervisors by sneering “i don’t know Supervisor. I can’t know what the Mayor was thinking.” Right.

  2. Why did Hillary Ronen play dumb on KTVU claiming that supes could not know of this practice if commissioners did not tell them?

    There had been rumors of such resignation letters from Breed for months. Peskin said he knew that this had been a practice at unspecified times in the past.

    If Ronen can’t sense such things based on what she sees and hears working at City Hall, as a supervisor, every day, then either she’s lying to us or there’s a level of density that disqualifies her for this line of work.

  3. The city has been getting worse and worse since London Breed became mayor… and unfortunately, nothing will change until she leaves.

    1. Agree.

      And I was wishing as I was completing my November ballot that I could vote to recall Mayor Breed (even though I’m not generally for recalls) because she really is where the buck stops in this city and so flagrant in her corruption.

  4. >”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.”

    Sounds like he works for Purdue Pharma. But for sure, it was meant to weed out the worst of the worst, and never about exerting influence.

    Back to what Carter-Oberstone said about lying being baked into the system…

  5. The public ain’t buying it. Something stinks to high Heaven. And Elsbrend knows it. Having been a district supervisor, he is crystal clear on how things work with the powers of the office of the Mayor versus the BofS. He is familiar with the City Charter (our “Constitution”) and knows full well that it already provides for the proper means to remove bad actors, people who commit crimes, malfeasance, or act inappropriately. This mayor was caught red handed. When questioned, Elsbrend was testy, snippy and more than that, he was unresponsive in his answers. The bogus storyline of the mayor protecting people from AWOL appointees or bad actors like Mel Murphy is frankly insulting to thoughtful citizens, especially after it took months for this mayor or anyone in her office to do something about another appointee named Mohammed Nuru who was up to his neck in corrupt behavior. San Franciscans don’t need (or want) the mayor or any mayor to “protect us.” We want and expect transparency, accountability and checks and balances.