If the citations were characterized as misdemeanors, then the adjudication method for the nabbed contractors -- a hearing, often presided over by the officer who wrote the ticket, with an arbitrator in a remote location listening in via speakerphone -- could be interpreted as a denial of the contractors' right to due process.
"If this is a misdemeanor, then [cited contractors] are entitled to a jury trial. They're also entitled to counsel if they can't afford one," said Mazzucco. "This is important, because if we run the record on one of these contractors and this shows up on his rap sheet [the distinction] between 'infraction' and 'misdemeanor' is a really big deal. We need to dig down and get to the bottom of this issue."
Department of Parking and Traffic director Bond Yee later noted that the city attorney was in the process of changing legislation to "decriminalize" the offenses overseen by the SPOT program, so citations can be handed out by enforcement personnel other than police. This, too, did not sit well with Mazzucco.
"That's excellent, but we've had five years of strong enforcement and people may have been tagged with a misdemeanor without their right to due process," he said.
The potential money loss for the city comes from a class-action federal lawsuit contractors from the Residential Builders Association threatened last month, claiming, among other charges, they were denied their due process. RBA members said after Wednesday's meeting that such a lawsuit is definitely still in the forefront of their minds -- and if, as Mazzucco fears, the city did deny the builders their due process, that would be huge asset to the RBA's potential case.
In addition to requesting a clarification on the infraction-vs.-misdemeanor question, Mazzucco asked, specifically, how much money SPOT raked in in 2007 -- when it handed out 1,755 tickets and made only 76 admonishments -- and how much money was, in turn, sent to the SFPD in overtime payments. Mazzucco and other commissioners said that even the appearance that SFPD officers were inclined to hand out tickets to generate revenue for the self-funding SPOT program was problematic.
Police Commission president Theresa Sparks said MTA would be made to answer these questions "soon" -- within the next couple of weeks. She also confirmed that builders' harassment allegations against a police officer connected to SPOT had been relayed to Chief Heather Fong -- and that an internal affairs investigation would soon commence. Sparks declined to release the officer's name.
Summing up some of the other highlights of the night (other than the Carnival bacchinal in the lobby):