Unions say grand juror unethically helped Adachi measure

Bob Muscat (at podium) and Stand Up For Working Families at a press conference outside City Hall
Steven T. Jones

San Francisco's police and fire unions are taking a lead role in opposing Public Defender Jeff Adachi's November initiative to make city employees pay more of their pension and health care costs, despite the fact that both unions have recently renegotiated their contracts to exempt their members from paying those increased costs until 2013.

The unions and Bob Muscat from the San Francisco Labor Council recently formed the group Stand Up for Working Families to run the opposition campaign to Adachi's SF Smart Reform, yesterday holding a press conference at City Hall to highlight the allegedly unethical role that a grand juror has played in pushing the Adachi measure.

Civil Grand Jury member Craig Weber led the committee that in June released a report on the city's pension system called “Pension Tsunami: The Billion Dollar Bubble,” warning that employee pension costs to the city would more than double in the next five years and “fundamental adjustments must be made to the City's employee pension program.”

Yet by the time that report came out (following a similar grand jury report from a year earlier), Weber was already working as treasurer for the Adachi's signature-gathering campaign, which City Attorney Dennis Herrera called an inappropriate conflict of interest and which Muscat says that raises questions about data manipulation and access to secret grand jury proceedings.

“I have serious concerns in this particular instance that Mr. Weber's dual roles create a conflict of interest, or at least the appearance of conflict of interest, which would undermine the integrity of any Civil Grand Jury investigation into these issues,” Herrera wrote in a June 14 letter to Presiding Judge James McBride, relating how Weber had sought advice from Herrera's office on the matter in March and that both Weber and the Grand Jury chair refused to heed his advice that Weber recuse himself from working on the report.

“We believe he used his position on the Civil Grand Jury to manipulate the civil grand jury report,” attorney Peter Saltzman, who represents opponents of the measure, said at the press conference.

But Adachi called the charges “just smoke and mirrors,” telling the Guardian that his initiative was based on data from the Controller's Office and that the measure was written and publicly available before the latest grand jury report was released. “We received zero information from the grand jury,” Adachi told us. “We relied on public information that we received from the Controller's Office.”

He has claimed the measure will save the city about $167 million per year by making city employees pay more into their pensions and health care costs for their dependents, although that figure will be lower for the next two years because of exemptions that were written into five police and fire memorandums of understanding that the Board of Supervisors approved last week, agreements negotiated by the Mayor's Office and opposed by Sups. David Campos and Chris Daly (Sup. Ross Mirkarimi also voted against the MOU for Fire Department executives) because of the exemption.

Police union head Gary Delagnes, who was at the press conference, told the Guardian that the special consideration for those two unions – both of which are key supporters of Mayor Gavin Newsom -- was simply a function of negotiating their MOUs later than the other unions. “By the time we and the firefighters were in there, this thing [Adachi's campaign] had really picked up steam,” he told us.

During the press conference, Muscat highlighted how billionaire Michael Moritz, managing partner of Sequoia Capital, put almost a quarter-million-dollars into qualifying the Adachi measure for the ballot and said, “This is a measure not in the interests of anyone in San Francisco and it represents the interests of people outside of San Francisco” who are attacking public employee unions for political reasons.