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Politics & Policy

Mayor Breed to end practice of making appointees sign undated resignation letters

Mayor London Breed speaks at a press conference in San Francisco City Hall of on Thursday, August 4, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. Breed has announced she will stop requiring signed and undated resignation letters from her appointees. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Mayor London Breed will stop making her appointees sign secret, undated letters of resignation after The Standard exposed the legally questionable practice on Friday and supervisors threatened her with legislative action.

Facing concerns that she was depriving her appointees of their independence, Breed announced Sunday that she would cancel any outstanding letters of resignation and will no longer ask her commission appointees for the undated letters, which she could use to remove them from their positions.

A spokesperson for the mayor said she would halt the practice after receiving guidance that the letters would not likely hold up in court.

“Over the last four years, the letters have never been invoked or used in any way,” said Breed spokesperson Jeff Cretan. “That being said, the Mayor has consulted with the City Attorney’s Office and been informed that, while legal, the undated letters are likely unenforceable in court if they were ever used.”

The City Attorney’s Office has not independently confirmed her statement.

Breed is stopping the practice after The Standard published an email chain Friday showing the Mayor’s Office directed one of her appointees to the Police Commission, Max Carter-Oberstone, to sign an undated resignation letter shortly before his reappointment to the powerful body this spring.

The Standard uncovered a copy of the letter through a public records request for documents underlying a spat between Breed and Carter-Oberstone, who she publicly accused of being a “liar” earlier this month.

The revelation prompted supervisor Dean Preston to call for legislation Saturday to explicitly ban Breed from making appointees sign the undated letters as a condition of the job and to cancel any existing letters.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen also came out in support of the legislation.

Preston said the practice appeared to run afoul of the City Charter, which does not allow the mayor to remove one of her appointees from the Police Commission without the consent of the Board of Supervisors.

“There is no place for that kind of conduct,” Preston previously said. “It’s extremely concerning if this happens once. And if it’s a pattern, or a practice, it’s even more concerning.”

While the Mayor’s Office has acknowledged that Carter-Oberstone was not the only Breed appointee who signed such a letter, it’s unclear how common the practice is. Preston said he would hold a hearing to find out.

Cretan, Breed’s spokesperson, has declined to answer questions about how widespread the practice is and who else signed a similar letter.

In a statement Sunday, he said the letters were “reserved for the most dire situations of inappropriate behavior or dereliction of duties.”

He argued that they were necessary because commissioners can impact how the city functions, and that can reflect poorly on the mayor.

“If the Planning Commission rejects a housing project, the Mayor is held accountable,” Cretan said. “If the Police Commission refuses to support the Police Department’s efforts to combat violence on our streets and open-air drug dealing, the Mayor is held accountable.”

On Sunday evening, Preston said he would move forward with drafting legislation and holding a hearing on the issue.

“There are still many questions unanswered and we need to make sure no appointee is subject to this kind of improper control now or in the future,” Preston said.

He is expected to announce further details about his next steps Tuesday.