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Payday for Charlie Walker 

Why did the school district give $12,000 to the mayor's buddy?

Wednesday, Aug 25 1999
For weeks now, the city's politicians and press have watched as FBI agents caromed around town, throwing down subpoenas on the doorsteps of every San Francisco agency or department that has done business with Bayview activist and trucking contractor Charlie Walker.

In the apparent investigation of Walker's dealings with the city, federal agents have demanded records from the city's Human Rights Commission, Housing Authority, and Airports Commission, and begun bringing officials from some of those agencies before a grand jury.

Coming just months before an election, the probe has proven particularly embarrassing for Mayor Willie Brown, who used to be Walker's attorney, and has been the honored guest at lavish annual soirees that Walker throws to demonstrate his avid support for the mayor. Since news of the probe surfaced, Brown has tried to distance himself from Walker, denying that he has had much to do with his former law client and frequent party host.

Thus far, news reports have focused on contracting at the San Francisco airport.

But at least part of the probe, apparently, involves the San Francisco Unified School District, with which Walker has had some curious dealings.

Documents obtained by SF Weekly show that Walker received a $12,000 check from the district on Sept. 12, 1996, purportedly for performing "public relations" work -- at a rate of $400 a day -- for the district's desegregation efforts.

School district records -- and the timing and circumstances of the payment -- however, indicate that the money was quietly paid to Walker in the midst of a tangled legal fight in which a Superior Court judge later ruled that Walker should have been paid no money at all.

School district officials declined to comment on the payment, or say what Walker might have done to earn the $12,000. Walker did not return phone calls seeking information on the matter.

Understanding how he came to be paid the money requires a short dip into the convoluted history of one of Walker's dealings with the school district.

In August 1996, three months before a hotly contested school board race, the school district was doing some remodeling at Gloria R. Davis Academic Middle School in the Bayview. Several parents and community members -- including Walker -- became outraged when work crews found asbestos in the school. The parents demanded that the asbestos be removed before the school year started, or that other facilities be found for their children to attend until the problem was corrected.

Then-Superintendent Waldemar Rojas (who left the district for a similar job in Dallas earlier this year) toured the school buildings and determined that, in fact, they would not be ready for the opening of school, scheduled for later that month. A scramble ensued to find a new place for the students of Gloria R. Davis School.

Walker approached Rojas with an idea. Walker suggested that the school district build portable classrooms on a nearby piece of land owned by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. Rojas called the Redevelopment Agency. Its head, Clifford Graves, told Rojas that the land would likely be available until the following April.

But Rojas later called Graves back and told him that the district didn't want to use the land after all. In fact, within a week or two, the district decided on another site altogether, a former Public Works Department building at 1550 Evans St.

The school district's change of plans, however, did not slow down Walker. Without a contract, with no approval from the school board, and without permission from the Redevelopment Agency, Walker went ahead and started work on the site anyway.

Walker and business associate Jay Forni hired a handful of subcontractors and began grading the land and preparing it for portable buildings. Never mind that no one had authorized the work, or that Walker did not even have a contractor's license at the time. (Walker later told officials he was going to use the license of a subcontractor with whom he was going to partner.)

When the Redevelopment Agency found out Walker had crews working on its land, it sent Walker a cease-and-desist order. Another letter followed from the school district's attorney, asking that the work be stopped.

Walker didn't stop. Finally, the Redevelopment Agency had to go to court, and on Sept. 11, 1996, a San Francisco Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction forbidding any further work on the property.

Even though he had undertaken the work with no contract or formal approvals, however, Walker still expected the school district to pay him for it. In September, Walker presented a bill for more than $600,000 to the school district for the construction work. Walker claimed the district owed him because Rojas had personally approved the work, although letters and legal documents would later contradict that claim.

On Sept. 26, 1996, the school board was presented with a resolution which acknowledged that the work had been done "without the express authorization of the district," but suggested nonetheless that Walker be paid. The board rejected the resolution, and the idea of paying Walker.

On Oct. 15, 1996, Rojas sent a memo to the board describing the entire event, including the information that district staff had told Walker to stop work on the site.

But by Nov. 12, 1996, the story had changed. Rojas told the board that he had verbally authorized Walker and Forni to continue work on the site -- despite what school district staff or the Redevelopment Agency said.

At the time, Rojas said he did not reveal the verbal authorization earlier because he didn't want to tip his hand in the settlement negotiations. And, Rojas asked the board to approve a $250,000 settlement with Walker, Forni, and their various subcontractors. Ultimately, the board agreed to pay Walker the $250,000.

But before the check could be cut, then-state Sen. Quentin Kopp and the San Francisco Taxpayers Association filed a lawsuit challenging the payment. Legal machinations over the lawsuit spanned two years. In the end, a Superior Court judge decided that Walker was not entitled to any money, and that paying him would be an illegal gift of public funds. In his order, Judge Raymond Williamson Jr. stated:

"There is simply no consideration for the payment. ... It appears to this court the payment would be a gift of public funds."

The public -- and the press -- have taken the judge's decision to mean that Walker was not paid any money for his renegade construction project. The judge, in fact, noted in his ruling that as far as he knew "none of the settlement proceeds have yet been paid by the district."

But what slipped through, unnoticed, was that the district had already paid Walker $12,000.

In the memo he sent to the school board proposing the $250,000 settlement with Walker, Rojas noted in passing that -- because of the rush to address the Gloria Davis problem -- some "emergency resources" had already been spent. Those "emergency resources" included a $12,000 payment, the memo said, but it did not elaborate on who received that money.

On Sept. 12, 1996 -- one day after the federal judge issued a temporary order stopping his construction work -- Walker signed a $12,000 consulting contract with the school district for public relations work.

The contract was supposedly part of the district's integration plan -- the district had been under court-ordered desegregation for years -- and the money was to be paid out of state funds for desegregation costs. The contract was signed by Walker and William Coleman, the school district's chief financial officer.

Walker was to be employed as a consultant for only a short period -- from Sept. 12, 1996, to Oct. 25, 1996. The work, according to the contract, was given to Walker because he "has experience and expertise in the culture and demographics of the Bayview-Hunters Point Community."

The job? "The district desires that the consultant render professional services in connection with facilitating public relations and outreach to parents and the community at the direction of the Superintendent."

The contract also stipulated that Walker be paid $400 per day, for a total not to exceed $12,000.

The day after the contract was signed -- the very first day of his new consulting job -- Walker received a check from the school district for the full $12,000, records show.

School district officials refused to comment on the payment. At press time, CFO Coleman stated that paperwork supporting Walker's payment is "in the hands of a law enforcement agency."

Timing aside, there is good reason to believe that the $12,000 public relations contract and the bizarre construction project are, in fact, related.

District financial records show that the $12,000 was paid to Walker from integration program funds. But an accounting note accompanying the check warrant indicates that it was approved by the school board on Nov. 12, 1996 -- two months later -- as part of the settlement with Walker for his construction work.

In a declaration former school board member and now Supervisor Leland Yee gave during Kopp's lawsuit, Yee stated that a proposed $12,000 consultancy fee for Walker was brought before the board and rejected in October 1996.

That fee returned on the proposed settlement statement as "emergency resources" that had already been spent.

So, the payment was not approved by the board before the settlement offer. And the settlement offer was struck down by the court. But somehow, Charlie Walker got paid $12,000 anyway.

About The Author

Lisa Davis


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