In the last 24 months, the Controller’s Office has issued nine reports including 64 recommendations stemming from its public integrity review of city contracts, purchase orders, permits, grants, and other areas susceptible to process failures. Many of these recommendations have been implemented or are being implemented to improve city systems, policies, procedures, internal controls, and transparency. The Controller’s Office has detailed the status of these recommendations in a report published today.
The federal prosecutions of 18 city employees, contractors, and others, as well as the criminal sentencing of Mohammed Nuru to seven years in prison, have been well-publicized. Numerous City employees and officials have resigned or been terminated, including several City department heads, in the wake of the City’s joint public integrity reviews between the Controller’s and City Attorney’s Offices. Walter Wong and his companies have settled with the City for almost $2 million in restitution and civil penalties for ethics violations. As a result of legislation introduced by the City Attorney, five city contractors who were federally charged have been suspended from doing business with the City.
The changes to the City’s refuse rate-setting process have been one of the most significant areas of reform. In June 2022, San Franciscans approved Proposition F, making the Controller’s Office the City’s new Refuse Rate Administrator responsible for reviewing and recommending refuse rates. The Controller has staffed the new Office of the Refuse Rates Administrator and is preparing for a new rate process next year. In March 2021, the City Attorney’s Office announced a landmark $101.5 million settlement with Recology that lowered rates and refunded ratepayers for overcharges that occurred under Mr. Nuru. Just last month, as part of a negotiated settlement, Recology agreed to deposit another $25 million into an account to rectify issues identified in our reviews and help stabilize residential refuse rates in the future.
Controller Ben Rosenfield released the following statement: “The offenses and willful disregard of regulations uncovered in the past two years were severe and, unfortunately, tainted trust in local government. I hope residents will be encouraged by the meaningful legislative changes, policy changes, and mayoral directives that have been established, and the urgency with which many of our recommendations continue to be addressed. I want to thank the staff in the City Attorney’s Office for their collaboration and hard work that have helped deliver the transparency and accountability — and the recompense — San Franciscans were owed. We know that our work is still not done.”
City Attorney David Chiu released the following statement: “Looking back over the hard work done by our attorneys and the Controller’s Office over the last two years, I am gratified to see real progress toward changing the culture of City government. I want to thank the many true public servants throughout the City’s departments for their collaboration and hard work to deliver the transparency and accountability that San Franciscans are owed. We know that our work is not done. My Office is committed to continuing our public integrity work to root out corruption in all its forms and hold bad actors accountable whether inside or outside City government. This includes supporting the work of our City’s contracting and human resources professionals who are on the front lines of good government.”
The Controller’s Office will continue to assess selected city policies and procedures to evaluate their adequacy in preventing abuse and fraud. Future reports will address the landfill disposal agreement between Recology and the City, and the procurement practices of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
Investigators from the Controller’s Office consider every allegation of wrongdoing raised by city employees and members of the public. To report suspected public integrity abuses related specifically to the Nuru investigation, please contact the Public Integrity Tip Line. You can provide information via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (415) 554-7657. All tips may be submitted anonymously and will remain confidential. Reports to this tip line, as well as tips to the Controller’s whistleblower hotline, are critical to the City’s ability to fight abuses and lapses of public integrity by city employees and contractors. As provided for by the San Francisco Charter, the Controller’s Office ensures that complaints are investigated by departments with the appropriate jurisdiction and independence from the alleged wrongdoing.
Information on city payments, searchable by department and vendor, are available on the Controller’s public transparency website at openbook.sfgov.org. Anyone may file any allegation of improper or illegal public activity with the City’s Whistleblower Program. That program, administered by the Controller’s Office, often partners with the City Attorney’s Office on investigations.