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Politics & Policy

Mayor Breed’s resignation letter list included niece of VP Kamala Harris

Meena Harris of Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign at 2019 Watermark Conference for Women Silicon Valley at San Jose McEnery Convention Center on February 22, 2019 in San Jose. | Marla Aufmuth/WireImage/Getty Images

Mayor London Breed’s controversial practice of having appointees sign secret, undated resignation letters went as far as to include a preemptive letter from a bestselling author who is related to Vice President Kamala Harris, according to newly obtained records.

Meena Harris, an attorney, children’s author and niece of the vice president, is among a new batch of 10 mayoral appointees who signed preemptive resignation letters that Breed’s office released this week. The letters have been criticized because they could open up certain city commissioners—who are supposed to be independent—to undue influence from the Mayor’s Office.

Meena Harris appears to have signed the document as part of her reappointment to the Commission on the Status of Women in 2019. She is no longer serving on the commission, which focuses on issues affecting women from homelessness to domestic violence. Her company, Phenomenal Media, did not respond to a request for comment.

Other notable local figures included in the latest disclosure are Belva Davis, a pioneering Black female television reporter who the mayor reappointed to the War Memorial Board of Trustees in 2019, and Yoyo Chan Murphy, a senior vice president of government and community relations for the Golden State Warriors who was appointed to the Mission Bay Citizens Advisory Committee.

A screenshot of a draft resignation letter sent to Mayor London Breed's office by Meena Harris, who held a position with the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. All letters sent to City Hall were voided on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, after the City’s Attorney Office deemed them "inconsistent" with SF law.” | Courtesy of the Mayor's Office

The newest disclosures raise the total number of publicly known appointees who submitted preemptive resignation letters to 48. They include members of some of the most powerful oversight bodies in San Francisco, from the police and planning commissions to the Board of Appeals.

Breed’s office has said the mayor requested the letters only to use them in the most extreme circumstances, such as when one of her appointees abandons their duties.

But critics see the letters as an attempt by Breed to control her appointees and circumvent the City Charter, which gives the Board of Supervisors—not the mayor—the power to remove some of her appointees. 

The Standard exposed the practice last month, leading Breed to pledge she would stop asking her appointees for letters and rescind those her office has received. The City Attorney’s Office found that the practice is “inconsistent” with the charter and essentially advised Breed to stop requesting the letters. The revelations also prompted Supervisor Dean Preston to call for a hearing and push for a new law explicitly banning the practice.

Breed’s office released the new batch of resignation letters in response to a formal Letter of Inquiry issued by Preston.

The mayor’s staff said she never required her appointees to sign the letters, used the undated letters to influence her appointees or held up an appointment because an appointee refused to sign one.

However, Police Commissioner Max Carter-Oberstone, a Breed appointee, previously told The Standard he felt compelled to sign an undated letter as a condition of his reappointment. He also said he believed the Mayor’s Office could use the letter against him if he did not make a public statement supporting Breed’s agenda.

While the Mayor’s Office previously identified 40 appointees who submitted preemptive resignation letters, it has since clarified that two of those appointees, Ike Kwon and Yakuh Askew, were included in error.

The Mayor’s Office last week released an unsigned letter from Kwon for his post on the Department of Streets and Sanitation Commission. The Mayor’s Office later clarified that the letter was drafted but never provided to Kwon or submitted by him.

“I’ve never been asked nor have I ever provided an undated letter of resignation in all my years as a commissioner,” Kwon told The Standard.

The Mayor’s Office also said it erroneously included a real resignation letter from Askew stepping down from the Arts Commission.

The other newly disclosed mayoral appointees who submitted undated resignation letters included: Connie Wolf, president of the Library Commission; the late Felicia "Flames" Elizondo, a brief member of the Aging and Adult Services Commission; Derek Flores, a nominee to the Planning Commission who never served; Daniela Maldonado, a former juvenile probation commissioner; Paul Woolford, a former arts commissioner now serving in a different capacity; and Ikram Mansori and Myles Tucker of the Veterans Affairs Commission.

Preston is expected to hold his hearing on the practice next Tuesday.