Now THAT’S An Appearance of Impropriety!

Why is this woman smiling?

Why is this woman smiling?

Juliet Ellis is the assistant for external affairs at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission at a salary of $195,000 annually. She is charged with, among other aspects of her duties, implementing the agency’s new environmental justice and community benefits policies.

She also, her public disclosures reveal, is the salaried chair of Green for All, an Oakland-based nonprofit, which trains disadvantaged minorities in energy-related work. The Commission—that is, the commission that Ellis works for in an influential position—awarded a $200,000 no-bid contract to Green for All—which Ellis chairs for compensation—to train people for city jobs.

Fancy that.

Commission rules permit administrators to accept work elsewhere, but only with special permission and on the condition that there be no conflict of interest or appearances of impropriety, both of which Ellis denies, adding dishonesty to her list of transgressions. Commission insiders have told the news media that Ellis was in the middle of discussion between her commission and her non-profit, and helped develop the latter’s proposal. A public records request turned up e-mails and other documentation that links her to the awarding of the contract. A blog headline about the episode was headlined, “Did SF official steer contract to her non profit?” Other stories on the blog presumably include “Did Barry Bonds cheat?”, “Is Don Young an idiot?” and  “Does a bear eschew public restroom facilities for more natural surroundings?”

How did Ellis think she would get away with such a blatant instance of self-dealing? Why didn’t anyone on the commission stop it? Why didn’t anyone on Green for All stop it? Because, it seems plain,…

  • …conflicts are regularly ignored in the ethical culture of both organizations,
  • …everyone assumed nobody would find out, because they get away with this stuff all the time,
  • …everyone assumed nobody cared, because the money was going to “a good cause,”
  • …”the appearance of impropriety” doesn’t appear to people who don’t see anything wrong with impropriety when it benefits them or a colleague who will help it benefit them the next time.
  • …both organizations are probably corrupt to the bone.

Ellis’s commission bosses suspended her—“Bad Juliet! Bad!” or perhaps, “I’m shocked…shocked!…that self-dealing is going on in this commission!”—once the story came out in the press, and she is probably a hero at Green for All. The prudent move would be to clean house in both places. That Juliet Ellis would even attempt such an obviously unethical maneuver is a smoking gun regarding widespread ethics rot in both organizations, and, in all likelihood, the local non-profit sector and the city government as well.


Pointer: Calif. Gov’t Scumbags

Facts: SF Gate

Graphic: Urban Habitat

5 thoughts on “Now THAT’S An Appearance of Impropriety!

  1. Anyone bothered by the size of that public salary? Congressmen make $174,000/year unless they are party leaders or the Speaker of the House. Only the Speaker of the House makes more money than the “Assistant for External Affairs of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission”. I assume she has 20 years of experience and multiple doctorates to pull down that salary. A GS15 federal employee in San Francisco would make $135,000 as a new hire (probably with a technical doctorate or as a specialty physician) and only $175,000 as a step 10 GS15 federal employee (as high as the scale goes).

      • It seems that only unproductive people make a lot of money. Corrupt people in positions of questionable value make lots of money, but those actually doing the work do not. My neighbor rebuilds jet engines for the military. There are 100 people in his shop. The military needed the engines done faster, so they hired 25 GS-15 supervisors to ‘motivate’ the 100 workers. The work slowed down as the workers had to fill out more status reports and go to more meetings. The supervisors each make as much as 3 workers (meaning 75 workers could have been added at the same cost). The workers are getting furloughed 1 day/week for the sequester, but the supervisors aren’t.

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