The other shoe

Records reveal more fallout from the Newsom affair, despite his refusal to talk about it
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steve@sfbg.com

Mayor Gavin Newsom has never answered questions about his illicit affair with his appointments secretary Ruby Rippey-Tourk — and even now, with city money involved, he's sticking to the stonewall.

The Guardian on Feb. 15 broke the story that the city had paid Rippey-Tourk more than $10,000 months after she left her job (see "Newsom Aide Got Paid," www.sfbg.com/blogs/politics).

But the mayor refused to even acknowledge questions I directly put to him earlier that day, just as he has since he confirmed media reports of the affair Feb. 1, when he issued a short statement and took no questions.

"We are confident that this matter was handled appropriately and humanely," he said in the prepared comments his Office of Communications put out.

But there are lots of legitimate questions that arise from payroll records we've obtained, which show Rippey-Tourk received more public money than she was entitled to during 2005, when the affair occurred, and 2006. Were public funds converted into hush money? Who was involved? What pressure was applied?

City Attorney Dennis Herrera offered some hope of accountability Feb. 15 when, in response to questions from the Guardian, the San Francisco Chronicle, and other media outlets about the payments, he announced an investigation.

"With the full cooperation of the city officials involved, the City Attorney has already begun the process of reviewing the paid leave to Ms. Rippey-Tourk to assure that it was done properly under City laws and procedures," Herrera's office wrote in a statement as he left for vacation.

The payroll records show that she received $21,755 in paid leave last year for 534 hours of work that she didn't do. That amounts to about 13 1/2 weeks of paid time off, well more than the 10 days vacation time and 13 days of sick leave to which she was entitled. And it includes a lump $10,155 payment that she received in September.

City law allows employees with "a life threatening illness or injury" to receive paid leave if coworkers are willing to donate their vacation and sick days to the cause. And Sam Singer, a spokesperson for Rippey-Tourk and her husband, Alex Tourk (who worked as Newsom's deputy chief of staff and later as his campaign manager before resigning last month when he learned of the affair), said that's what happened.

While Rippey-Tourk was in substance abuse treatment from May through July 2006, Singer told the Guardian, Tourk — who says he was unaware at the time that his wife had been having sex with the mayor — asked city officials whether there was a way to get paid for what began as a period of unpaid leave.

"Several of her coworkers donated their sick time to Ruby during this time of personal crisis," Singer told us.

Asked why Rippey-Tourk didn't return to her good city job after leaving rehab in July, Singer said, "She just felt it was a chapter in her life that was over, and she wanted to move on." Asked whether Rippey-Tourk may have felt uncomfortable returning to work for a boss who had bedded her during a time when she was having problems with alcohol, Singer refused to comment.

But Sup. Jake McGoldrick, who has called for Newsom's resignation, said the entire episode was unseemly and the mayor showed poor judgment for someone in a position of authority whom Rippey-Tourk trusted. "I think he took advantage of someone who was in a very vulnerable position," McGoldrick told us.

There are other questions about Rippey-Tourk's tenure at the city. Payroll records show she never worked a full week in 2006. And her 7 1/2 weeks of unpaid leave in 2005 also appear to be more than she was entitled to. She received $80,195 in compensation in 2005, up from $63,522 the previous year, which was her first in the Newsom administration.