City Administrator Knew Contractors Were Being Asked to Pay Public Works Holiday Party Tab: Report

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A report by the San Francisco City Controller’s Office released Thursday concludes that the city’s top executive, City Administrator Naomi Kelly, “was aware” that now-ousted Public Works head Mohammed Nuru was urging contractors to make donations for a Public Works holiday party last year, payments that the report concluded had violated ethics rules.

Kelly did not respond to calls seeking comment about the conclusions of the report, which found that nearly $1 million in off-the-books donations from private contractors wound up paying for events like the 2019 party, as well as t-shirts, hats, tote bags and other swag.

Late Thursday, city spokesman Bill Barnes said that while Kelly knew Nuru was soliciting money to pay for the holiday party, she was unaware of the specific sources of those contributions.

As first reported by NBC Bay Area earlier this year, the contractors donated through the non-profit San Francisco Parks Alliance, but the fund was actually controlled by Nuru and other Public Works officials.

Nuru faces five corruption-related federal counts, while others implicated have agreed to testify against him in the widening scandal.

The controller’s report says the contributions were barred under city ethics rules that ban gifts from contractors doing business from the city.

“The gifts, which were not accepted or disclosed by the City, create a perceived ‘pay-to-play’ relationship,” the report concluded.

The report noted that the party last year was attended by some 350 officials, as well as private firms working for Public Works. It noted that roughly 80 percent of the bill, about $33,000, was from contractors barred from making such donations because they are restricted from doing so under the ethics rules.

Nuru and other public works officials solicited those payments, but the report stressed that Kelly, who was Nuru’s boss, “was aware of his solicitation efforts.”

Mayor London Breed did not respond to calls for comment about Kelly’s alleged knowledge of Nuru’s conduct but did issue an executive order tightening restriction for so-called Friends-of-the-city organizations, like the Parks Allliance, and closing a loophole that meant city officials like Nuru were not obligated to disclose such donations.

Supervisor Matt Haney says the reporting loophole should be closed for good.  

“That is a huge problem,” he said.

Haney is pushing for a complete ban on all contractor payments, including those made through third parties, like the Parks Alliance.   

“That is not something that should be allowed,” Haney said.

Yet the supervisor was admittedly surprised to learn that the city’s administrator may have known Nuru was asking contractors to pay for the holiday party last year.  

“If it was prohibited before and she knew -- she knowingly allowed (city rules) to be violated-- then yes, that is a very serious issue that she has to be held accountable for and answer to.”

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