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Willie Brown tries to force city to restore lucrative contract with engineering firm 

Wednesday, Jul 1 2009

Even though he isn't in office anymore, it looks like Willie Brown is still making surprises for the Board of Supervisors. Da Former Mayor is sponsoring a bill in the state legislature that would upend a city attorney's opinion that cost giant engineering firm Parsons Corporation its share of a $26 million contract last year.

The funny thing is that San Francisco lawmakers seemed not to have known about the legislation, which has already passed through the Assembly, until recently. Last week, Supervisors David Chiu and David Campos hurriedly penned a resolution being considered by the board on June 30 (past our press deadline) to go on record opposing the bill, which they describe as an "ex post facto" attempt to strong-arm the city on behalf of a global conglomerate.

The city attorney's office ruled last fall that because Parsons was instrumental in designing the scope of a Hetch Hetchy water system improvement project, it would be a violation of state law to contract the firm to do work it essentially drew up the specs for. The Brown bill, AB 746, claims that Parsons would never have accepted the city's invitation to consult on the project if it had been informed this precluded it from making a bid, and would allow the company to reclaim its lost loot.

Naturally, one begins to wonder: Why is Brown carrying Parsons' water? Brown didn't return our e-mails and phone calls to clarify. But if he's gotten some sort of financial compensation out of this, he'd be gratuitously breaking the law, as he isn't a registered lobbyist — but that's not Brown's style.

When asked why Brown took his pet bill to San Jose Assemblyman Joe Coto instead of a San Francisco representative, workers in Coto's office said they didn't know and directed us to the bill's other "sponsor," lobbyist Terry McHale.

McHale, a lobbyist with Aaron Reed and Associates, told SF Weekly that Brown called on behalf of Parsons. "He said Parsons had an issue, and asked if we could help on it. So we did," recalled McHale, who was tracked down on his cell phone and spoke extemporaneously. "I think Mayor Brown works with Parsons also."

When SF Weekly described the Brown-Parsons–AB 746 scenario — without using any names — to ethics expert Bob Stern of the Center for Governmental Studies, Stern noted that unless "the private individual" took $2,000 or more from "the engineering firm" or spent more than a third of his time working for the firm, then he wasn't a lobbyist in the eyes of the law.

When we told Stern that the private individual in question was Willie Brown, he laughed out loud. No rules were broken — guaranteed. "Willie will make sure he is complying with the law," Stern said. "I'm sure Willie knows what all the rules are. He is very, very careful."

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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