Tuesday, January 21, 2003
First District Court of Appeal Upholds Firing of San Francisco Official
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The San Francisco Elections Commission had authority to fire the city’s elections director, the First District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
Overruling the city’s Civil Service Commission and a San Francisco Superior Court judge, Div. Two held that Tammy Haygood, now an attorney in Guerneville, north of Santa Rosa, was a probationary employee and thus not protected by the civil service provisions of the city charter.
The commission fired Haygood last April, less than a year after she got the job.
The case has had political repercussions, as supporters of Haygood alleged the Elections Commission targeted her because she is African American and a supporter of Mayor Willie Brown. Critics claim she overspent on operations and failed to maintain proper security of ballots.
The city has had a succession of controversial elections directors since the 1996 charter created the position.
Originally, the director was appointed by the city administrator, a mayoral appointee. But a 2001 amendment, placed on the ballot by anti-Brown supervisors, moved oversight of the Department of Elections and the power to appoint its director from the administration to an independent commission, with the mayor, district attorney, city attorney, public defender and treasurer—all elected officials—and the Board of Supervisors and the school board appointing one each.
Haygood appealed her firing to the Civil Service Commission, whose members are appointed by the mayor and which sided with Haygood. Superior Court Judge James McBride agreed with the Civil Service Commission, but the Court of Appeal stayed his ruling, so Haygood has been collecting a $120,000 annual salary while one of her former subordinates runs the department as acting director.
Justice Paul Haerle, in an unpublished opinion for the Court of Appeal, explained that prior to the adoption of the 1996 charter, elections were run by a registrar of voters, whose appointment and tenure were governed by civil service rules, including the one-year probationary requirement. Nothing in the new charter, or in the 2001 amendment enacted as Proposition E, indicated that the elections director was to be exempt from those rules, he said.
Haygood, the justice noted, acknowledged that she was subject to a year’s probation when she accepted the appointment from the city administrator in August 2001. That, and other aspects of the hiring process, make clear that the civil service rules applied, Haerle said.
The jurist also rejected the “startling” argument that even if the 1996 charter required the director to serve a probationary period, that requirement was implicitly repealed by Proposition E.
Under that theory, the justice explained, the commission would have been barred from firing an employee it did not hire, to head a department it was created to oversee—contrary to the principle that a law should be interpreted to “result in wise policy rather than mischief or absurdity,” Haerle said.
The jurist went on to say that even if Haygood was not a probationary employee, Proposition E—by granting the commission authority to hire the director for a fixed five-year term, without addressing the status of the incumbent director—implied that the commission would have discretion over whether to keep her on or terminate her employment.
Jerome Falk, one of the attorneys representing the Elections Commission, questioned the intent of the Civil Service Commission, which is appointed by the mayor and oversees the city’s civil service rules, of which probation is a key component.
“The irony is that the Civil Service Commission, which was leading the parade, was on the wrong side,” Falk told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Bill Terheyden, attorney for the Civil Service Commission, called the decision disappointing. “What can I say? I still believe our interpretation of the charter was correct,” he told the newspaper.
The case is City and County of San Francisco v. Superior Court, A099980.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company