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Politics & Policy

Preston targets Mayor Breed with ban on undated resignation letters

Supervisor Dean Preston questions the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Sean Elsbernd at a hearing about resignation letters at City Hall in San Francisco Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Mayor London Breed appears to have requested that 40 different City appointees to sign preemptive letters of resignation before or while serving on city boards and commissions. After the practice was made public, the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office stopped this practice after it deemed the resignation requests “inconsistent” with the City Charter. | Benjamin Fanjoy/ The Standard

A San Francisco lawmaker is taking aim at Mayor London Breed’s practice of asking political appointees on powerful city commissions to sign secret, undated resignation letters.

Supervisor Dean Preston will introduce legislation Tuesday to explicitly ban the mayor, the Board of Supervisors and other officials from requiring their appointees to sign preemptive resignation letters like the ones The Standard uncovered earlier this fall in a controversy critics dubbed “Resignation-Gate.”

Breed’s now-ended practice of requesting the letters before an appointee took office posed a threat to the independence of commissioners who are supposed to be protected from undue influence under local law.

Preston’s legislation would make it against city policy to ask for such letters before an appointee’s swearing-in or as a condition of reappointment.

While officials would still be allowed to ask their appointees to resign, the legislation makes clear that an appointee has the sole discretion over whether to step down.

Preston said the letters should never have been requested in the first place.

“It was a betrayal of the public trust and jeopardized the independence of our commissioners for the mayor to engage in this practice,” he said.

The Standard learned about Breed’s practice in September when a police commissioner said he felt pressured by the Mayor’s Office to take a stance on an issue, in part because her staffer asked him for an undated letter.

The revelation spurred a review by the City Attorney’s Office which deemed the practice inconsistent with the law and prompted Breed to end it.

It would ultimately come to light that Breed asked nearly 50 appointees across city government to sign the letters.

The Mayor’s Office maintained that the letters were reserved for the most extreme cases in which a commissioner abandoned their post or otherwise failed to fulfill their duties.

At a Board of Supervisors hearing called by Preston in October, Breed’s top staffer Sean Elsbernd said the practice was not about influencing votes.

But he acknowledged that the mayor had a “subjective standard” when it came to whom she asked—and whom she didn’t ask—to sign them.

A Breed spokesperson did not return a request for comment.

Michael Barba can be reached at mbarba@sfstandard.com