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Eliminate the City Administrator from the Charter


Budget Reform: Step #1

•••••••••• May 13, 2024 ••••••••••

Our City is at a crossroads. We can either continue the downward spiral of government waste, unneeded bureaucracy, and patronage or start running City Hall as a business with accountability, transparency, and integrity.

Let’s start at the top. A prime example of our out-of-control City Hall is the Office of the City Administrator, (CA) previously the Chief Administrative Officer.

The then-new 1932 Charter created the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) due to the corruption in the City at that time, especially in elections for its lawsuits and controversies. The 1932 Charter abolished the prior Board of Elections Commissioners and vested responsibility for administering Elections to the Registrar of Voters under the newly created CAO. The CAO was responsible for all City and County of San Francisco affairs that were placed in his charge by the provision of this Charter and by ordinance.

Over the years, the CAO was assigned responsibility for major departments such as the Department of Public Works, Waste Management, Airport, Health, Registrar of Voters, etc., but all were removed to become stand-alone departments.

The voters adopted the 1996 Charter, eliminating the CAO position, and created a City Administrator with a shorter term. The CAO outlived its purpose, and its bureaucracy was effectively pared down and integrated with other departments. But all the 1996 Charter did was change the title. The Charter’s stated purpose was to streamline—not just change a position title and arrange departments like musical chairs to justify an unneeded City Administrator position paid $441,000 per year, including fringes. It is a gift of public funds.


We need to stop the patronage. The previous City Administrator was a protégé of Willie Brown, who resigned due to corruption along with her indicted husband, the former head of the SFPUC. The current City administrator is a protégé of a protégé of Willie Brown.”

Government reform aims to reduce government waste and deliver services efficiently and cost-effectively. The City Administrator does not do this. The CA continues unnecessary tiers of bureaucracy and remains a patronage position/department that must be eliminated from the Charter. The elimination of this Department would eliminate dozens of redundant and unnecessary positions and save taxpayers millions, estimated at over $10 million annually (this amount should be audited because it would be substantially more in cost savings).

We need to stop the patronage. The previous City Administrator was a protégé of Willie Brown, who resigned due to corruption along with her indicted husband, the former head of the SFPUC. The current City administrator is a protégé of a protégé of Willie Brown.

A proposed Charter amendment is needed to eliminate the City Administrator and all references in the Charter since the position/department is unneeded and a gift of public funds.

The Department continues to have unnecessary bureaucracy levels (See the chart below). For example, the Office of Contract Administration has a Director of Purchasing and an Assistant Director who report to the Deputy Director under the City Administrator, who reports to the City Administrator, who reports to the Mayor who appoints them. Eliminating the City Administrator would streamline the process by eliminating two tiers of unnecessary bureaucracy and related staff, resulting in millions in savings for other more needed city purposes, such as public safety.

San Francisco Governance Chart
San Francisco Governance Chart

The following are examples of departments currently under the CA that should be and are set up as independent departments and do not need oversight by the City Administrator:
· Animal Care and Control
· Real Estate
· Treasure Island Development Authority – Currently has a Board of Directors for oversight. Why is the City Administer needed here?
· Department of Technology, which includes Committee on Information Technology (COIT), DataSF, Digital Services, and ReproMail. Years ago, this Department was under the oversight of the Controller’s Office.
· Department of Contract and Grants Administration (Purchasing), which includes Contract Monitoring, Fleet Management, and Labor Standards Enforcement.

The following currently under the CA should be merged into other departments:
· County Clerk into the Assessor Recorder’s Office - The County Clerk issues marriage, birth and death certificates, City ID’s, notary services, etc. The Recorder maintains marriage licenses. Therefore, like other Bay Area Counties, the County Clerk should be merged and become the Assessor/Recorder/ County Clerk.
· Medical Examiner into the Health Department
· Mayor’s Office on Disability into Mayor’s Office
· Grants for Arts into Arts Commission or under a new Department of Contract and Grants
· Office of Cannabis under Mayor’s Office
· Transgender Initiatives, Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs under the Mayor’s Office or the Human Rights Commission.

This is just the tip of the iceberg at City Hall, which is full of government waste, inefficiency, patronage, lack of accountability, and total disrespect for the taxpayer. I just call it like I see it.

John Farrell Broker/Realtor® – Farrell Real Estate , MBA, Former City Assistant Assessor-Budget and Special Projects, 5th Generation San Franciscan

John Farrell Broker/Realtor® – Farrell Real Estate, MBA, Former Assistant Assessor – Budget & Special Projects, Westside resident -

March 22, 2023


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