Tourk payments investigation clears and questions

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By Steven T. Jones
The City Attorney's Office this morning released its investigation of payments the city made to Ruby Rippey-Tourk after she left her job as appointments secretary to Mayor Gavin Newsom, with whom she had an illicit affair, to enter substance abuse treatment. The report found no wrongdoing by any city officials and indicates Rippey-Tourk can keep the $10,000-plus that she received. But it also highlights the special treatment that Rippey-Tourk received and notes that investigators were hindered by her refusal to waive medical privacy rules.
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The report concluded that the city's Catastrophic Illness Program, under which she received the money, gives the Department of Health Services (and its director Mitch Katz, who approved the payments to Rippey-Tourk) broad discretion in approving applications, although investigators found that no city employee has ever received it simply for substance abuse treatment and no employee has ever received payment after terminating their employment with the city, as Rippey-Tourk did. Mysteriously, the report also noticed there were two different forms of handwriting on the doctor's note that was included in her application. But because she wouldn't consent, investigators were prevented from delving into whether her claims were authentic and whether her condition could be considered life-threatening. It was only through media reports, including these in the Guardian, that the report mentioned substance abuse treatment.
Investigators did question top officials about whether the word came down to give Rippey-Tourk special treatment and all denied discussing it or her relationship with the mayor, which Newsom had an obvious interest in trying to keep secret at that point. But it does indicate that Phil Ginsburg (then head of human resources, now Newsom's chief of staff) and Katz discussed a request by Alex Tourk (who refused to speak with investigators) about getting some money for his wife, who at that point was about two months into her unpaid leave, and that Katz suggested the CIP program. Whether or not all concerned knew Rippey-Tourk had been having an affair with Newsom, they were certainly aware that she was close to the mayor and was married to the mayor's deputy chief of staff.
So, while this report contains no smoking guns and will likely bring this matter to a close -- at least officially -- it is far from reassuring that public funds weren't used as hush money.