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Politics & Policy

Mayor’s secret resignation letters ‘inconsistent’ with SF law, city attorney finds

A man is speaking at a podium with microphones, a woman stands next to him, both in business attire, with the US and California flags behind them.
Mayor London Breed watches as City Attorney David Chiu speaks at a press conference in San Francisco City Hall on Aug. 4, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Mayor London Breed didn’t explicitly break the law by directing her appointees to sign secret, undated resignation letters.

But her newly uncovered practice is “inconsistent” with the City Charter, and could threaten the independence of her appointees from her “undue influence,” City Attorney David Chiu’s office concluded in a memo Tuesday.

“For these reasons, appointing authorities should not require resignation letters before or as a condition of appointment for commissioners who may only be removed for cause or with the concurrence of a City body other than the appointing authority,” Chiu’s office wrote.

The City Attorney’s Office weighed in on the practice after The Standard revealed its existence last Friday, publishing a draft letter that Breed’s office directed one of her appointees on the Police Commission to sign.

While the extent of the practice was initially unclear, the Mayor’s Office released records Tuesday showing that dozens of Breed appointees to some of the most powerful commissions at City Hall have submitted draft resignation letters, raising questions about their independence.

The office released 40 draft resignation letters from appointees to 23 different commissions ranging from the SFMTA Board of Directors to the Planning Commission and the Board of Appeals. 

Critics say the practice appears to run afoul of City Charter language that serves as a check on executive power. The charter gives the Board of Supervisors—not the mayor—the final say on whether to remove her appointees to many of the city’s independent oversight bodies.

The revelation raised concerns about how Breed’s appointees could act independently when the mayor essentially had an undated resignation letter from them in her desk, that she could apparently use against them.

The City Attorney’s Office found, however, that the letters likely would not hold up in court if they were signed as a condition of employment.

While Breed announced Sunday that she would end the practice and cancel any outstanding letters in response to reporting by The Standard, Supervisor Dean Preston plans to push legislation that would explicitly ban the mayor directing her appointees to sing the letters as a condition of the job.

Preston, with the support of Supervisor Hillary Ronen, is also planning to hold a hearing on the matter.