When Mayor Ed Lee filed official misconduct charges against Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, he put a fundamental question before the people of San Francisco. When does an official’s conduct fall “below the standard of decency, good faith and right action impliedly required of all public officers”?
The mayor’s testimony under oath before the Ethics Commission last Friday now requires that this question be answered about his own words and deeds.
There are two credible reports that the mayor may not have answered truthfully when he said he hadn’t discussed filing charges against Mirkarimi with members of the Board of Supervisors and when he subsequently said he hadn’t authorized anyone to offer Mirkarimi a possible job if he were willing to resign.
Under oath, when questioned by Mirkarimi’s attorney, the mayor denied that he had discussed filing charges of misconduct against the sheriff with any member of the Board of Supervisors before he decided to do so. And when asked if he had authorized Walter Wong or Aaron Peskin to see if Mirkarimi would step down in exchange for another job, Lee answered, “Absolutely not.”
But Mirkarimi supporter and city Building Inspection Commissioner Debra Walker, a friend of Supervisor Christina Olague, has said the supervisor told her that such a conversation did take place. And Peskin, former Board of Supervisors president, has told The San Francisco Examiner that Wong asked him to be an intermediary to make a job offer to Mirkarimi from the mayor.
Serious accusations that the mayor may have stated something under oath that was not truthful — particularly in a hearing about whether to remove another elected official for official misconduct — cannot be wished away as merely politics.
The San Francisco Examiner believes the Ethics Commission should immediately call for public testimony from anyone who may have answers about what the mayor did, what he said and what actions were contemplated. The commission is the appropriate forum for that inquiry since it has subpoena powers and can put witnesses under oath, and because the initial testimony took place during its deliberations. The commission also should subpoena the relevant phone records.
Most importantly, it is a public process in which no witness can deflect the question by simply declining to comment.
Walker should be required to testify under oath about what Olague told her about her alleged conversations with Lee. Olague should testify about whether Lee discussed this case with her. Other members of the board also may need to be called to give an honest account of any conversations they had with the mayor, his staff or his agents.
Peskin, who has called on the sheriff to resign, should be required to flesh out his allegation that he was asked by Wong, one of Lee’s political intimates, to pitch a deal to Mirkarimi from the mayor. Wong should be required to testify about any discussions that he had with Peskin and the mayor.
Each witness should be cautioned that perjury could subject them to criminal penalties.
Lee was right to suggest that the sheriff’s conduct should meet “the standard of decency, good faith and right action impliedly required of all public officers.”
That is the basis for trust in our elected officials. There should be no exceptions.