The cover up is almost always worse than the crime
EDITORIAL It's no surprise that Mayor Gavin Newsom doesn't want to answer any more questions about his affair with Ruby Rippey-Tourk. The polls suggest that most of the voters have either forgiven him or never really cared in the first place, so it's in his interest to move on and try to keep this from becoming a campaign issue.
And if it were just about sex, that would be fine with us too.
But from the start this sordid episode had some bad elements that are every bit a matter of public interest. Rippey-Tourk wasn't just the wife of one of Newsom's friends; she was an employee of the city, and in a not so indirect way, Newsom was her boss. And with the evidence that has surfaced that Rippey-Tourk was paid $21,755 for work she didn't do, including paid leave for the time she was in rehab (something other city employees don't get), there are real questions that the mayor needs to answer.
Let's run down the situation, as far as we can establish it:
• Rippey-Tourk and Newsom had an affair in 2005. That year she had 7 1/2 weeks of unpaid leave a benefit that is not part of the standard package offered to city employees and not in any union contract.
• In May 2006, Rippey-Tourk went into substance abuse rehab and was out of work until July. She was still listed on the city payroll until Sept. 1, when she was cut a check for $10,155. Ultimately, she was paid for 13 1/2 weeks (or 67 1/2 days) of unpaid leave. She was entitled to 10 vacation days and 13 sick days. That leaves 44 1/2 days that she didn't work and technically shouldn't have been paid for.
• The Mayor's Office says other city employees donated their unused vacation and sick time to her. It's perfectly legal under city policy for employees to donate their paid time to a colleague who has to take a leave for a catastrophic, life-threatening illness. But alcohol and drug rehab don't typically fall into that category.
• The law says the Department of Public Health must certify that a city employee faces an actual life-threatening illness before the catastrophic leave policy comes into play. And the employee's supervisor has to sign off on the decision.
So somebody at the DPH must have approved a leave for a worker who almost certainly didn't qualify, and Rippey-Tourk's immediate supervisor at the time, thenchief of staff Steve Kava, had to have gone along.
It doesn't take much speculation to figure out what likely went on here: Newsom had his chief of staff give an employee who had slept with the mayor a benefit that other city employees don't get, and the director of public health, who (more or less) reports to the mayor, went along with it. And a bunch of city money was involved.
So far nobody at City Hall will answer questions about how this happened, saying that it's a matter of employee privacy. We agree that Rippey-Tourk (the real victim in all this) has been through plenty, and the public has no business examining her medical records. But the mayor has made a nasty mess of the situation, and he can't be allowed to just skate away without explaining whether his office in effect paid hush money out of the public till to someone he had treated shabbily and who had strong legal grounds to sue the city and deeply embarrass the mayor in an election year.
If Newsom would show up at a Board of Supervisors meeting, the way he's supposed to, and answer questions, the public might glean a bit more information. But he's refusing and while the City Attorney's Office is conducting a confidential investigation, that's not good enough.
The supervisors should launch their own investigation and they need to demand to see the key documents, talk to the key players (starting with Newsom, Kava, and Public Health Director Mitch Katz), and determine if the mayor violated city law and then tried to cover it up. The budget analyst, Harvey Rose, should be directed to investigate the use of city money here and whether this practice is going on anywhere else in the city. It won't be easy but the supervisors have the legal authority to issue subpoenas, and while that power is rarely used, this might be an occasion that justifies it.
The cover-up is almost always worse than the crime and if Newsom and his senior aides won't tell the truth about what happened, there is going to be serious fallout. *