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How is San Francisco vetting officials? 2 scandals raise questions

City Hall
San Francisco City Hall | Source: Harika Maddala/Bay City News

In May, San Francisco official William Monroe Palmer II was accused of beating his girlfriend. Yet the next month, he was reappointed to the Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board—and no one asked about the allegation. 

Palmer is one of two San Francisco officials who have been accused of wrongdoing and been removed from their roles or asked to resign this month—Palmer over a new rape charge and Sanitation and Streets Commissioner Maryo Mogannam over a vermin infestation. But why the issues in each man’s past were not flagged before their appointments raises questions about the adequacy of the city’s vetting process for such candidates and the sheer number of people serving on city boards and commissions

Mogannam was removed from the body after it was discovered that one of his properties had a history of unsolved rodent infestation. Separately, Palmer, a member of the Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board, was asked to resign after being arrested and charged with rape this week. But a month before his June reappointment, San Francisco police received a report from his girlfriend that he beat her. 

A man with dreadlocks speaks into a microphone.
In June, Palmer asked a Board of Supervisors committee to reappoint him to the Sheriff's Department Oversight Board. | Source: SFGovTV

The two men are among a huge number of people who sit on boards and commissions with powers over the city and its citizens—from sanitation and police to fire and the water supply. 

But aside from requiring the candidates to file economic interest forms, write applications and undergo interviews, there is little more required vetting by supervisors or the Mayor’s Office. 

Former Supervisor and state Sen. Quentin Kopp said there isn't enough vetting for the people on the city’s group of bloated oversight bodies. 

“There are too many commissions and boards. The last count I had a month ago was that there were 117 of them,” he said.

The city charter gives most appointment power to the mayor, who, in many cases, appoints every person on many boards and commissions. The mayor’s office is tasked with vetting candidates. In most cases, unless the board of supervisors calls a special hearing to remove one of the mayor’s choices, the candidates are appointed once they are finally chosen.

Mayor London Breed’s office said in a statement that the director of boards and commissions reviews candidates’ statements of economic interest, applications and resumes. The director also looks online and “conducts individual assessments of the person’s work history, civic engagement, and ties to the community beyond their resume.” 

Photo of a sanitation commissioer
Former Sanitation and Streets Commissioner Maryo Mogannam

Candidates are also questioned about their experience to ensure they are a good fit for the commission or board they are set to serve on. They are also reminded of their ethical obligations. 

“The Director reviews the information declared on Form 700, which plays a critical role to try to identify if their financial interests might trigger ethical rules,” the statement from the Mayor’s Office said.  

The Mayor’s Office did not respond to an inquiry about whether that process includes checking for complaints or code violations in the case of Mogannam, who listed his Page Street property on his disclosure form. 

A smaller number of boards and commissions are filled by both the mayor and the Board of Supervisors. The mayor has the majority of appointments, but candidates must meet board approval. Some of those bodies include the police and planning commissions. 

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin said besides requiring candidates to fill out a form detailing their economic interests, applications and hearings, there is no hard and fast rule governing vetting. 

But there's an expectation that any supervisors putting forward and vouching for candidates will have done some due diligence, he said. 

Peskin said that when supervisors “advocate appointment, they are vouching for that individual.” 

Sometimes supervisors use a more personal touch, sitting down with candidates in person, said Supervisor Connie Chan’s legislative aide, Robyn Burke. 

“She used to be on Rules [Committee] and would meet with candidates put forward before making any decision in the committee,” Burke said. 

In the case of Palmer’s initial appointment—he was put forward by Supervisor Shamann Walton on the Rules Committee—it is unclear what background was done, as his office did not respond to a request for comment. Palmer was appointed in June, a month after he’s alleged to have assaulted his girlfriend. 

Palmer was appointed to the Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board by the Board of Supervisors in 2021. 

In May, his term was extended to 2027. Palmer was also appointed by the Board of Supervisors to San Francisco’s Sentencing Commission. The seat held by Palmer on the oversight board is designated for someone who has been through the criminal justice system.

In 2019, Palmer was released from prison after serving 31 years for a failed robbery-turned-kidnapping. The California Supreme Court ruled that 23 of those years amounted to “excessive punishment,” according to his biography on the website of the oversight board.

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at jonah@sfstandard.com