Ethics boss finally ousts Luby, a crusading public advocate

Oliver Luby recently spoke at the memorial service for his mentor at the Ethics Commission, Joe Lynn.
Luke Thomas/Fog City Journal

Oliver Luby has long been the most public-spirited employee of the San Francisco Ethics Commission, the one person in that office who repeatedly exposed powerful violators of campaign finance rules and blew the whistle on schemes to make the system less transparent and effective, drawing the ire of Director John St. Croix and Deputy Director Mabel Ng in the process.

St. Croix repeatedly tied to silence and punish Luby, who fell back on civil service and whistle-blower protections to save his job as a fines collection officer and continue doing it properly. But it appears St. Croix has finally succeeded in ousting Luby, who this week was notified that his last day will be June 11.

During budget season last year, at a time when St. Croix was trying to punish Luby for sounding the alarm about a new campaign finance database would effectively delete important data (something St. Croix defended but the vendor, NetFile, later corrected), St. Croix quietly removed a special condition for Luby's job that required at least 12 months campaign finance experience.

So when Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered more than 400 layoffs of city employees to balance the budget, Luby's job was just another 1840 level position, subjected to being taken by someone from another department with more seniority, which is what happened when Ernestine Braxton, a junior management assistant with the Department of Public Works, took the job.

When I asked St. Croix about why he removed the special condition from Luby's job and whether it was retaliation for his battles with Luby, St. Croix told me, “You want me to talk about a personnel matter and I'm not going to talk about it.”

Yet Luby says its clear the St. Croix targeted him for removal. “Once that condition was removed, it was only a matter of time before I was bumped by someone in the same civil service job class but with greater seniority,” Luby wrote in a message to supporters, adding that he's still figuring out what his options are.

Luby first got on the wrong side of Ethics Commission management back in early 2004 when he and fellow employee Kevin DeLiban accidentally were sent a memo from the office of campaign attorney Jim Sutton, treasurer for the Newsom for Mayor campaign, detailing a scheme to illegally pay off campaign debts with money laundered through Newsom's inauguration committee.

Ng and then-director Ginny Vida ordered them to destroy the document, but they saved a copy and exposed the scheme, which Sutton then backed away from implementing (the pair was publicly honored for their efforts). But Luby continued to have professional differences with Vida's replacement, St. Croix, often over the favorable treatment given the clients of Sutton, who runs the most expensive and deceptive campaigns on behalf of powerful downtown corporations and organizations (and whose hiding of a late PG&E contribution to defeat a 2002 public power measure resulted in a largest fine Ethics ever ordered).

For example, in 2007, Luby wrote a memo showing how enforcement actions by Ethics disproportionately targeted small campaigns (often by progressive candidates) and ignored serious violations by the most powerful interests in the city (which, if pursued, would have resulted in big fines, money the city desperately needs). We at the Guardian obtained the memo and wrote a story, causing St. Croix to order Luby to not longer write memos recommending way to improve operations at Ethics. And in November 2008, Luby wrote an op-ed in the Chronicle showing how St. Croix had ignored and covered up campaign finance law violations at City College of San Francisco that later led to the criminal indictment of former Chancellor Phil Day (whose trial is expected to begin later this year).

With each of these battles, Luby was threatened by St. Croix and had to seek support from his union, SEIU Local 1021, and the protection of civil service and whistleblower laws. But now, it appears that San Franciscans are losing the only person in the Ethics Commission that could be trusted to act in the interests of the city and the public.


It is a sad state of affairs at the Ethics Commission when whistle blowers are targeted for pointing out corruption. I am not an attorney but this sure looks like a lawsuit to me. It's blatantly obvious Luby was singled out and removed because of his passion for honesty in government. What is this City coming to?

Shouldn't the Board of Supervisors investigate this incident and the Ethics Commission itself?

Tim Durning
Volunteer Treasurer for Grassroots Campaigns

Posted by Tim Durning on Jun. 04, 2010 @ 6:01 pm

Oliver Luby is the epitome of what it is to be a civil servant. He is competent and ethical. This is a real loss for the city and will leave Ethics Commission without its straightest shooter.

How can we get someone to serve as an Ethics Commissioner?

Posted by tgarcia on Jun. 04, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

Smells like a clear case of retribution for doing what San Francisco taxpayers expect of our civil servants: to expose corruption.

Jim Sutton is as crooked as Lombard Street and St. Croix has proven to be a spineless yes man.

Oliver Luby, on the other hand, should be knighted for his heroic efforts. Instead, he has been snuffed out. Luby knew it was coming. Whistle-blowers don't last long.

It's time to burn down the house. Where are those torches, Marc S?

Posted by Luke Thomas on Jun. 04, 2010 @ 8:02 pm

That clinches it Now, other than the voice of Eileen Hansen, the Ethics Commission is just window dressing, worse yet facilitating blatant or only thinly disguised violations of the campaign finance laws. St. Croix is the best friend the violators have. What a lackey. He just goes along to get along. The Board of Supes should eliminate the budget for St. Croix's job since his services are of no value to the City. His salary should be used to help the mentally ill and homeless. With him in charge, violating the local ordinance is like taking candy from a baby. He doesn't even make it a challenge for Jim Sutton.

Eileen and others tell us what we should do?

Posted by Guest Paul Hl. Melbostad on Jun. 05, 2010 @ 11:01 am

sort of way that there is an ethics commission in SF.

A guy spends his time on the board of supervisors running SF into the ground and then when his kids get old enough to suffer his terrible governing, he sends them off to Fairfield, and the people who howl the most about ethics love that guy?... There are endless examples. There is a huge credibility gap from the very beginning around this.

They ethics web page has a whole bit about lobbyists, well some lobbyists, you will see no mention of the majority of the cities lobbyists, they seem to be defined away. No mention of public employee unions or non profits who spend all their time on bended knee begging for more tax money. These groups also pride themselves in electing officials and abetting so called progressive legislation, so they are far more influential than the couple dozen examples you can find on the cities web page.

The whole operation down there is another huge joke on the SF tax payer, a futile clownish group of moonbats and their egos.

Posted by glen matlock on Jun. 05, 2010 @ 11:49 am

Is it time to appoint Oliver to Ethics Commission?

Posted by Kimo Crossman on Jun. 05, 2010 @ 3:19 pm

Love it, Kimo. Luby for the Ethics Commission!!

Posted by Luke Thomas on Jun. 06, 2010 @ 10:24 am

'When I asked St. Croix about why he removed the special condition from Luby's job and whether it was retaliation for his battles with Luby, St. Croix told me, “You want me to talk about a personnel matter and I'm not going to talk about it.”'

The "Special Condition" had nothing to do with Luby, rather the "Special Condition" was removed from the position of Fines Officer at the Ethics Commission, irrespective of incumbent or those who might hold the position in the future.

One might understand how St. Croix might confuse a personnel matter, which would have to do with Luby's performance of his duty with the more abstract matter of why Ethics executive staff decided to remove a "Special Condition" from a position such as fines officer in the first instance.

Ethics law is nothing if not complex and arcane tempered and peppered with ample regulations and FPPC and City Attorney opinions. That is why there was a "Special Condition" attached to the position, because that is the only way to ensure that the is well versed enough in campaign finance law if s/he is going to apply it in real world circumstances.

So the removal of the "Special Condition" during a budget crisis would ensure that a relatively junior employee in a classification would get bumped during the next round of layoffs.

The next question is, if Ethics was preparing the "catch" by eliminating the "Special Condition" who was "pitching" a more senior member of the staff, who would have to be laid off in order to bump at Ethics?

We can rest assured that there was no dirty politics involved here, as the "pitching" agence was the Department of Public Works, which is truly above reproach and has never been involved in political shenanigans.

It would also be very interesting to see the budget history of fines collections by the incumbent, compare that to Ethics' projections for this upcoming fiscal year, and take a look back in 12 and 24 months to see the nature of how Ethics' favored downtown operators make out under the new "streamlined" regulatory regime.


Posted by marcos on Jun. 06, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

Marc, I agree with you that the removal of the special condition for this job shouldn't be considered a confidential personnel matter, and I made that argument to St. Croix when we talked by phone, but he wouldn't talk to me about any of it. I do think this should be looked into by the board and I'll be following this story up later this week.


Posted by steven on Jun. 07, 2010 @ 10:28 am

St. Croix is able to get away with whatever he wants to because the Ethics Commission is the body which handles Official Misconduct charges.

Get the Ethics chief to be compliant with your agenda and he gets to run his agency as he sees fit.

Next Wednesday, 16 June, is the first Budget and Finance Committee hearing on Ethics FY 2010-11 budget.

That will be the most opportune time for Supervisors to put St. Croix on the record to justify his decision and hold him accountable.

At this point, it might make sense to defund the vast bulk of the largely ineffective Commission except for Public Financing and let the bulk of the staff go.

Have candidates file with an agency that gives a fuck, the FPPC, and save the taxpayers a few bucks during tight budget times.

My understanding is that St. Croix did not inform the Ethics Commissioners that he was taking this action either.


Posted by marcos on Jun. 07, 2010 @ 11:05 am

How and when do you report all the expenditures you have spent on the "clean slate" (this should be good!)

Posted by Guest on Jun. 07, 2010 @ 11:29 am

We at the Guardian don't produce the Clean Slate mailer, which is created and distributed by a private entity that will indeed disclose its spending through the Ethics Commission

Posted by steven on Jun. 09, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

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