Four years after taking over a department plagued by corruption, the director of The City’s building inspections resigned Wednesday amid accusations that Mayor Ed Lee’s office had orchestrated her ouster.
While the departure of Department of Building Inspection Director Vivian Day was officially called a resignation, one agency commissioner, Debra Walker, said she had been “forced to resign.”
Walker suggested that a majority of commissioners — the four of the seven who were appointed by the Mayor’s Office — had agreed to fire Day unless she resigned. She said she thought the firing had originated in the Mayor’s Office and surmised that Day had been considered too tenacious about enforcing building codes.
“I think it’s code enforcement in general; she knows the code and she applies it,” Walker said.
But Lee insisted Wednesday that he had no involvement in any effort to force her out.
“I’ve never engaged with any personnel matters in DBI,” Lee said. “I’m letting them handle it.” However, he acknowledged the department’s history of dysfunction calling it “sort of a mess.”
Day was hired by the commission as a permitting manager in 2007, after a series of FBI raids and an internal anti-corruption probe of the department ordered by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom. She quickly rose to the position of acting director in 2008. Her position was made permanent in February 2009.
She had been one of the department’s longest-serving directors until Wednesday, when the commission accepted her resignation following a pointed discussion about whether the matter should be aired publicly or discussed in closed session.
The commission split 4-3, with those appointed by the Mayor’s Office voting to discuss the matter privately. The three appointees of the Board of Supervisors, two of whom complained angrily that they had not been told of Day’s departure, disagreed.
“It’s a slap in the face to the rest of the commission,” said Walker, who defended Day’s efforts to bring DBI’s budget into the black and implement new programs and technology upgrades. “We, the commission, have a right to know what happened and the public has a right to know.”
Under San Francisco’s City Charter, the commission has exclusive authority to hire and fire its director.
Following the closed session, the commission announced that Day’s resignation would be effective at the end of the month and that, on July 1, she would become “special assistant for transition purposes,” presumably to train her replacement. Tom Hui, DBI’s deputy director of plan review services, was named acting director while the department conducts a search for a permanent head.
Day said she had been called to a meeting with city officials May 22, when she had been made an offer to stay on.
She would not elaborate on the meeting or what the offer was. After the hearing, she declined to comment about the reason for her resignation.
“It’s just been a pleasure working for the department,” Day said.
Walker was less cordial.
“I just don’t think it’s in the best interests of The City,” Walker said. “This is how we treat people who do good jobs.”