A coalition of city workers Thursday attacked the credibility of a recent Grand Jury report that recommended pension reform for city employees by pointing to a key jury member who they say had a conflict of interest during the investigation.
The coalition, called Stand Up for Working Families, which consists of firefighters, police officers, and other city workers, delivered a letter to the city attorney today asking for investigations into what they call a “misuse” of the Civil Grand Jury process for political purposes.
Specifically, the letter asks for a thorough investigation into whether committee chair for the Civil Grand Jury Craig Weber violated the terms of his position.
Weber is an accountant who worked as treasurer for the SF Smart Reform initiative–a ballot initiative that would amend the city charter to require city workers to contribute more to their pension fund that was spearheaded by public defender Jeff Adachi–while simultaneously serving for the Grand Jury during their investigations into the city’s retirement system.
Stand Up was led by city worker union representatives who are strongly opposed to SF Smart Reform. Adachi has already collected more than enough signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot.
The coalition’s accusations come at the heels of letter that city attorney Dennis Herrera sent on June 14 to a judge presiding over the Civil Grand Jury in which he expresses concerns about this alleged conflict of interest.
The letter claims that Weber contacted Herrera’s office in late March to ask about his risks in becoming a proponent of a city charter amendment relating to the retirement system while serving on the Grand Jury.
Herrera’s office warned Weber of the potential pitfalls, and suggested he withdraw if there was any serious overlap in the issues he was investigating. When the city attorney learned in May that the subject of the Grand Jury report was the city’s retirement system, they contacted Grand Jury officials to express concerns about the conflict of interest.
Officials said at the time that there was not enough evidence indicating the conflict would be problematic.
But Thursday, Bob Muscat, spokesman for the Stand Up coalition, said that the facts and figures in the Smart Reform ballot initiative appear to have come from proprietary information known only to the Grand Jury.
The ballot initiative was introduced in April, and the Grand Jury report was released in June.
“…It is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that Mr. Weber did in fat act under a conflict of interest, shared confidential information from the Grand Jury with SF Smart Reform, and used public resources for campaign activities,” reads the Stand Up letter.
In response, Weber said that he never shared information from his grand jury investigation with anyone. In addition, Weber said that he had an accounting position with SF Smart Reform, and did not have any input on the research or materials for the content of the initiative.
“I’m not a strategist for Adachi,” he said.
This was Weber’s second pension-centered Grand Jury investigation.
He also worked on a Grand Jury report released in June 2009, which was titled “Pensions: Beyond Our Ability to Pay” that focused on many of the same issues as the 2010 report, titled “Pension Tsunami: The Billion Dollar Bubble.”
Darcy Brown, a spokeswoman for SF Smart Reform, said that the information on the ballot initiative was not proprietary, and that Adachi conducted independent research to learn where the city’s money was going.
“The biggest line item that jumped off the page was pensions and health care,” she said.
Adachi was not immediately available for comment.
In its letter, the Stand Up coalition also claims that Weber may have suppressed a “minority report” in the Grand Jury Report that reflected views of dissenting grand jurors.
But when asked about the details about this report, Muscat said that the coalition had not conducted enough research to provide further information.
Weber said that there was never such a report, and that the accusations are false.
“This is completely a red herring,” Weber said.
The real issue, he said, is that the city attorney has failed to enforce Proposition H, which the voters passed in 2002 to ensure that city workers shared the burden of pension contributions.
The recent Grand Jury report warned that the city faces a possible tsunami of pension and healthcare costs that could reach nearly $1 billion per year in five years.