Behind the CBI chief's "resignation"

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Matier and Ross reported today that Vivian Day, the director of the Building Inspection Commission, was stepping down and taking another city job (at the same pay). But there's a lot more to the story.

A leader in the Residential Builders Association who serves as the chair of the Building Inspection Commission was behind the move oust Day -- and he did it without informing other members of his panel.

Angus McCarthy, the residential builder representative on the commission, hauled Day into a meeting that involved a senior representative of the city’s personnel department to discuss his desire for her to resign, emails obtained by the Bay Guardian show.

Micki Callahan, the city’s Human Resources Director, met with Day and McCarthy May 22, the emails show, and Day was offered an alternative job with the city at equal pay if she would step down.

 “I was asked to ‘resign’ by June 30, 2012 by Angus who stated he was speaking on behalf of the Commission who wanted a change in leadership,” Day wrote in a  May 23 email to McCathy and Callahan. “I understand that I serve at the will of the Commission, but I was surprised by the fact that people were being interviewed for my position without some notice to me as a courtesy.”

She noted that she didn’t want to resign and needed to hear that the entire commission was backing up McCarthy.

The problem: At least two other commissioners I spoke to told me they had no idea the commission chair was calling on the director to resign, and one of them, Debra Walker, said she wasn’t looking for a change.

“They’re trying to get rid of Vivian because she isn’t corrupt,” Walker told me.

In a May 23 email, Callahan wrote that “we wanted to you explore with you your interest in pursuing a voluntary resignation in a way that was respectful of your contributions to the city.”

But Day was having none of it, and complained by email that she was being harassed by the builders. The previous commission chair, Mel Murphy, also tried to drive her out.

“I spent a year being harassed in front of the Commission because I would not bend Civil Service rules to accommodate [Murphy’s] wishes regarding staff,” Day noted.

By law, the BIC must include a residential builder, a residential landlord, a licensed structural engineeer, an architect, a tenant, a nonprofit housing provider and a member of the general public.

I contacted Day, who told me that she couldn’t comment. McCarthy told me by email that “this is a personnel matter between the Director and Human Resouces, [so] I have been advised by the City Attorney's office to avoid commenting on the matter.”

Myrna Melgar, who holds the public seat, told me that McCarthy had never spoken to her about Day and that the commission had held no meetings to discuss her job or tenure. Melgar told me that she’s not sure Day is strong enough on tenant issues, but never told McCarthy that she wanted a new director.

There doesn’t seem to be widespread concern among tenants about Day’s performance. Tommi Avicolli Mecca, who works at the Housing Rights Committee, told me he and his colleagues have no issues with her.

Walker confirmed there had been no discussions about Day resigning among the commissioners. Any move to oust the director would require a closed-sesion meeting on the topic, and none has been scheduled, Walker said.

But according to a May 24 email from Day to Callahan, “Angus did state that the ‘commission wanted a change in leadership.’”
She added: “The Commission has not been convened to discuss this issue and I do not want to voluntarily resign. ... If the Commission wants a change, thyen the Commission should be respectful to me and not back door and try to force a voluntary resignation from me.”

All of which leaves two obvious possibilities: McCarthy went ahead and tried to push Day out, claiming that he had the rest of the commission behind him -- or else McCarthy spoke privately with several other commission members to line them up, in which case he violated the Brown Act, which mandates that such discussions be held only at a scheduled meeting with a quorum present.

The residential builders’ anger with Day is a bit puzzling. She hasn’t been exactly a rabid anti-development type. The Chron says the mayor thought she was “an obstructionist blocking the mayor's efforts to build more housing and boost neighborhood economic development,” but it’s hard to see any evidence of that.

I asked Randy Shaw, director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, a big fan of McCarthy and an ally of the mayor, if he had seen any problems with Day. “I’ve never met her,” he emailed tersely.

One person close to DBI had a different take on the situation. “The RBA has been running the department for years,” this person, who asked not to be named, told me. “Vivian wasn’t one of them. So they figured they might as well just put their own person in charge.”