Now Reading
Report slams environmental official for “lax tone” on ethics

Report slams environmental official for “lax tone” on ethics

The city’s top environmental official imbued a “lax tone” toward ethics into her department that led to numerous violations of city policy by herself and her employees, according to a new report released on Friday.

The City Controller and City Attorney reviewed numerous ethical issues and found that Debbie Raphael, former Director of the Environment, asked Recology executives for donations. Recology was negotiating contracts with The City.

Raphael, who was the director of the Department of the Environment, resigned on Thursday, just one day before the publication of the report.

She is one of several top officials to exit City Hall since 2020, when revelations about the “pay-to-play” tactics of former Department of Public Works head Mohammed Nuru sparked a sweeping inquiry into corruption at the highest levels of San Francisco government.

Mayor London Breed announced Raphael’s interim replacement – Assistant Deputy General Manager at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Tyrone Jue – on Thursday, but did not expound on the accusations that led to Raphael’s departure.

Friday’s report outlines the thin and permeable boundary that separated Recology, a privately owned company, from the Department of the Environment. Recology sets the rates San Francisco customers pay for waste collection.

It also shows how Recology was contacted by SF Environment officials to provide donations to support their initiatives. This money was hidden from the public eye by being stored with the Friends of SF Environment.

Here are a few key takeaways from the report…

Friends of SF Environment

Friends of SF Environment is ostensibly a separate nonprofit organization from the city. However, Department of the Environment employees have the signature authority to disburse funds to the former.

These close ties allowed department employees and friends to solicit donations to Friends, and then use those funds for department events.

Recology offered a $25,000 donation to the Department

In 2015, Raphael sought – and later received – a $25,000 donation from Recology. The gift was first reported by The San Francisco Standard earlier in the week. The moved raised red flags for investigators because, at the same time, Recology was working on securing a large contract to haul the city’s waste to its landfill.

Unlike other gifts, the department didn’t disclose the gift – intended to support an Earth Day event – on its website because it was actually directed to the Friends nonprofit.

Emails prove that the gift was, in Recology’s eyes, about business.

In an email to Raphael, a Recology executive said the gift was a “business development opportunity.”

Senior Management Withheld Documents

See Also

The Controller’s Office and City Attorney also accused the department of doing everything it could to withhold information about the $25,000 gift.

“Only after being pressed for complete documents did the department provide records related to the $25,000 donation to Friends of SF Environment,” the report states.

Lack of ethics training

Only top officials of the department received ethics training prior 2021. Lower-level employees were not aware that Recology could accept non-cash meals and gifts.

Recology helps to hire SF Environment employees

Recology not only built close relationships with department employees — it helped hire them.

“Based on information provided by SF Environment and the Department of Human Resources, two Recology employees served on at least six job recruitments in the last five years for positions ranging from assistant to senior coordinator,” the report states. “Most of these positions require some interaction with Recology and could contribute to contract oversight of Recology.”

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.