What if the mayor lied?

Pub date July 10, 2012

EDITORIAL The case Mayor Ed Lee is presenting to the Ethics Commission is no longer about whether Sheriff Ross Mirkarmi injured his wife, Eliana Lopez, or whether his actions were atrocious and unacceptable. Those facts are not in dispute — although Mirkarimi pled guilty to a less-serious misdemeanor, he has not denied that he grabbed Lopez’s arm and squeezed hard enough to leave a bruise. Even his strongest defenders aren’t condoning that or dismissing the seriousness of this incident of domestic violence.

Much of the evidence Lee has presented goes to different issues — for example, the allegation (so far, without any proof) that Mirkarimi sought to dissuade witnesses from coming forward .

And formally, the question Lee is raising is a larger one: Did Mirkarimi’s action rise to the level of official misconduct — or, in the words of Lee’s testimony, did his conduct “fall below the standard of decency, good faith, and right action that is impliedly required of all public officials?”

Now Lee is facing that same question. It’s something the commission needs to address — not only because it goes to the heart of this particular case but because the public has a right to know if the mayor of San Francisco lied under oath on the witness stand.

In fact, now that two credible witnesses — one a city commissioner, the other a former supervisor — have made public statements that indicate Lee was dishonest in his testimony, the District Attorney’s Office should open an investigation. Perjury is a felony crime — and while it’s hard to prove, there are critical facts that are missing. The only witnesses who have direct (non hearsay) corroboration have been unwilling to discuss the matter in detail, and only the DA and Ethics have the ability to issue subpoenas and ask them the key questions under oath.

Lee testified that he hadn’t discussed the case or his deliberations over filing charges with any member of the Board of Supervisors. But Building Inspection Commission member Debra Walker told reporters that her friend and ally, Sup. Christina Olague, had recounted having a conversation with the mayor on that topic right before the charges were filed. Olague denies that, but has declined further comment.

Then Lee testified that he never offered, or authorized anyone in his office to offer, a job to Mirkarimi in exchange for his resignation. Former Sup. Aaron Peskin says Lee ally Walter Wong approached him and asked him to convey exactly such an offer to the sheriff on behalf of the mayor. Peskin recalls the exact date, time and place of his meeting with Wong, and he mentioned the offer to Guardian reporters long before this trial began. Wong has declined to speak to reporters.

So at the very least, there are grounds for the commission members to allow Mirkarimi’s lawyers to question Olague and Wong — and if either of them contradicts the mayor’s sworn statement, it would raise serious doubts about Lee’s credibility. And that’s central to the official misconduct case: Mirkarimi’s lawyers argue that the sheriff was never given due process and that the mayor never tried to learn Mirkarimi’s side of the story. The mayor says Mirkarimi refused to tell that story. The commission vote could hinge on that dispute — and if Lee lied about other parts of his testimony, it would be fair to question everything he said. And if Lee can’t hold himself to the standards of decency and good faith, the voters need to know that.

And whatever the outcome, it’s clearly time for the supervisors to look at the City Charter section on official misconduct. Because the current law allows the mayor to suspend and charge any elected official in the city, entirely on his or her own discretion — but there’s no way (short of a recall election) to charge, impeach, suspend or remove the mayor. It’s an imbalance that gives the chief executive extraordinary powers with little accountability. That’s not good government.