Supervisor Bevan Dufty, armed with numbers and documents he obtained detailing MTA work orders from other city departments, scolded two members of the San Francisco Police Department’s top brass Wednesday, calling the department’s raid on Muni’s budget "excessive" and "unbelievable."
Dufty called the hearing before the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee to examine why other departments are charging the MTA for work orders that will total $83 million by the end of 2010. The SFPD’s tally is the largest, at nearly $19 million.
Dufty questioned why the SFPD is charging the MTA for services like vehicle
stops to enforce traffic statutes, injury crashes, dignitary escorts
and traffic direction for demonstrations and special events, amounting to 87 percent of the department’s bills to the MTA, which is facing one of its most severe budget crises.
"When I asked the Budget Analyst’s Office, they couldn’t find another jurisdiction locally in which a transit agency is paying the cost for their police traffic function," said Dufty, addressing the SFPD’s Chief Financial Officer, Ken Bukowski. "So, can you enlighten me as to why this is happening and on what basis you think 87 percent is a reasonable proportion of costs to Muni?"
"I just don’t feel that the traffic company’s mission and services are 87 percent related to what Muni is doing. I think that this is really excessive."
Bukowski responded: "It’s based on our historical relationship between the police department and when we used to have DPT (Department of Parking and Traffic) underneath the police department and at that point in time revenue from DPT paid for traffic operations. DPT transferred to MTA and that relationship continued after it was transferred to MTA."
But Dufty pointed out revenue generated from traffic citations since last September has generated more than $23.6 million dollars, which is more than enough money to pay for the traffic detail.
"I just don’t feel that the traffic company’s mission and services are 87 percent related to what Muni is doing. I think that there’s a portion of it but I think that this is really excessive, and I think you’re gettng two bites of the apple because the general fund, which is largely what supports the police department, is deriving a significant amount of revenue from moving violations."
Supervisor David Campos agreed with Dufty, saying "it doesn’t make sense."
Bukowski said it was ultimately a decision left to the Mayor’s office. Advocates have criticized the Mayor for allowing other departments to tap into the MTA’s budget, which also covers the salaries of some of his top officials.
Dufty also questioned why patrols that are supposed to be provided for the T-Third along the Third Street transit corridor involve officers on overtime, and he pointed to a general consensus among many riders that police are rarely seen on Muni despite rules to the contrary.
The SFPD’s Bus Inspection Program requires each sergeant in a patrol division and each officer "assigned to a radio car" to make two transit inspections per shift. Officers on foot patrol are required to make at least four inspections per shift.
"I’ve been clear for months and months that I don’t think officers are riding the system. It is frustrating to me that within a paramilitary organization we don’t seem to have the discipline to ensure that officers are riding," he said. "I’ve been through four whistle blower complaints about the Muni Response Team, in terms of how they’re conducting business, and I’ve had people tell me they’ve been riding for 10 years and never seen a police officer get on or off a vehicle."
Dufty said he told Police Chief Heather Fong that if a general resistance to patrolling public transit is embedded in the culture of the SFPD that officers fresh out of the academy should be required to ride Muni for three to six months "so they have a different orientation than what we’re dealing with. I just think it’s so unacceptable." His comments were followed by applause.
SFPD Commander Sandra Tong, who oversees the Muni Response Team (composed of eight officers and one sergeant), said officers are told to patrol Muni, however, "there are many other things we asked them to do on a daily basis during their shifts."
"It’s something that we want them to do, but obviously our first responsibility when you’re a police officer is answering those calls for service, traffic enforcement, foot patrols and a whole other host of things."
But Dufty reiterated SFPD is not doing it’s job when it comes to patrolling Muni. "I don’t think it reflects well on the police department that you can’t make the commitments that you’ve made and that you’re getting paid for."
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said there needs to be some kind of quality control assurance system in place on lines such as the T-Third.
"If MTA is going to pay for SFPD to be riding that line, then we want to know absolutely that we’re getting our money’s worth."
Campos said he’s frustrated the police department has not become aggressive patrolling Muni. He said the SFPD was told at a Police Commission hearing last year that it needed to beef up patrols. He’s worried very little will change.
"A lot of money is being provided to the police department by Muni," said Campos. "Are we going to be back where we are today, six months from now, a year from now, talking about the same thing? Because it’s not like the police department hasn’t known what the problem areas are."
Where is the MTA Board’s Leadership?
In testimony before the committee, MTA Board Chair Tom Nolan promised to get to the bottom of the work orders problem.
"It’s 10 percent of our entire budget. If we didn’t have any of those work orders we wouldn’t be talking about service reductions, at all."
He pointed out that many MTA Board members have recently expressed concern and the agency is planning an audit.
"I think it’s a good time to look at every dollar that is being spent [on work orders],
and I don’t have the confidence, I will tell you right now, that every
dollar is being spent on Muni," he said, responding to a question from Campos about whether he feels confident the money is being spent on public transit.
Campos responded: "Well, that’s a real problem, I think, if the head of the Board is not able to make that statement then it shows you we need to look very carefully at how this money is being expended."
Dufty admonished MTA directors, saying they need to more closely scrutinize the orders from here on out.
"I really think that it’s time for the MTA Board to stand up and insist that whether it’s the police department, whether it’s 311, whether it’s the real estate department or whatever it is, that there is a need for better justification and a demonstration that these services should be charged to the MTA and if they’re charged to the MTA that services are actually being provided."
Mirkarimi questioned Nolan about what kind of structure may be in place to examine the work orders "if you’re not getting the service you’re paying for."
"I’m not sure there is one," said Nolan.
Mirkarimi said he fears the MTA Board is "going to constantly be coming back as an appointed body to the Board [of Supervisors] to
help us try to figure out why these bumps in the road are not being reconciled."
He said he cautiously supported Proposition A, which gave the MTA Board more power, and wonders whether it wouldn’t be better for MTA directors to be elected rather than appointed by the Mayor to enhance independence and accountability, a statement that drew applause from the audience.
Where was the MTA’s Top Brass?
Noticeably absent from yesterday’s hearing were MTA Executive Director Nat Ford and Chief Financial Officer Sonali Bose. MTA Media Relations Manager Judson True, who also acts a liason to the Board of Supervisors, was sent in their absence. Some supervisors on the committee were outraged.
"I have to say that given that we’re talking about issues clearly of a financial nature I’m surprised that the CFO of the MTA wouldn’t be here to talk about these things. You had the CFO of the police department here," said Campos, addressing True. "That’s what’s really disappointing about this presentation."
Mirkarimi went a step further, asking True, "Was the CFO told to stand down and not be here?"
"Not to my knowledge, no," True responded.
Mirkarimi said that because of the absence, supervisors were left at a disadvantage.
In an interview, Ford said he was unable to attend the hearing because it was called "pretty late in the week last week" and he had to attend a planned meeting on the budget for MTA employees.
"I needed to focus on getting out there and talking to our employees about what was discussed in the Board meeting yesterday," said Ford. He didn’t mention if Bose took part in the same meeting.
We talked to Ford about the work orders and we’ll have more later in an exclusive Streetscast interview.