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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tom Otterness Killed Dog, Got City Contracts. What if He Killed People?

Posted By on Wed, Sep 21, 2011 at 7:15 AM

click to enlarge Did Muni give this guy money, too?
  • Did Muni give this guy money, too?

It's almost impossible to stay rational when discussing the plight of dog-slaughtering artist Tom Otterness, who may or may not lose out on millions in city money due to his troubling past.

That's because it's hard to conceive of a transgression that would provoke more outrage among San Franciscans than Otterness'. He could have led Zippo raids in Vietnam, burning whole villages to the ground; robbed, looted and philandered; or shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Fog of war, youthful indiscretion -- those things are explainable. But chain an innocent puppy to a fence and shoot it -- as an art film, no less -- and you've made enemies for life here in San Francisco.

People did weird things in the 1970s. But, really, what kind of monster could do that to an innocent, trusting puppy? There's a reason Michael Vick is quarterbacking elsewhere.

So while the Municipal Transportation Agency and Arts Commission have certainly doled out contracts to a man who has killed a dog -- Otterness, for one -- it remains uncertain if city money has been divvied out to people who have killed people. "I can't say," answers Arts Commission spokeswoman Kate Patterson. "The city has done work with a lot of artists. I can't say whether or not someone has killed someone in the past."

Muni spokesman Paul Rose was also uncertain if anyone convicted of murder or manslaughter was currently earning a paycheck from his department.

In fact, there are any number of convicted felons working for the city today -- per city policy. In its "Disclosure and Review of Criminal History Records" section, the civil service commission has this to say:

In reviewing an applicant's criminal history information, the City and County of San Francisco shall evaluate the information on a case-by-case basis, with due consideration given to the following factors:

1) the nature and gravity of the offense; 2) the degree to which the conviction is related to the duties and responsibilities of the classification and position for which the individual has applied; 3) the time elapsed since the conviction; 4) the age of the applicant at conviction; 5) frequency of convictions; 6) evidence of rehabilitation; and, 7) any other mitigating circumstances.
And, keep in mind, those are the policies governing people who would work for San Francisco full-time -- not merely receive a contract as Otterness did.

Arts Commission president P.J. Johnston confirmed that a $700,000 commission with Otterness is "on hold" -- despite the artist already receiving $365,750. Should the pressure to sever ties with the artist grow insurmountable, yes, Johnston continues, it's quite possible the city will shower Otterness with hundreds of thousands of dollars while receiving nothing in exchange. That seems an odd way to punish him.

click to enlarge rsz_patty.jpg
Johnston notes that contracts handed out by his commission don't have a "character clause," and he's uncertain of the legality of voiding an agreement with an artist who'd been living up to his end of the deal due to a 34-year-old incident in which criminal charges were never filed.

"Certainly we've funded and participated in programs working with ex-felons and ex-juvenile delinquents and other people who've had dark episodes in their pasts," Johnston said. "It is a new and uncomfortable position for me to focus on not the artwork but the artist."

Finally, if there's anything at all humorous to come out of an affair involving the senseless slaughter of an innocent puppy and the city's histrionic reaction to it, we've got Leland Yee to thank. The state senator and mayoral candidate released a statement decrying Muni: "I am shocked that once again the MTA has failed the public. It is time for a mayor who will hold this out-of-control city department accountable."

Yes, given Muni's rich history of coming up short in transit-related matters and Yee's support of the $1.7 billion debacle-to-be that is the Central Subway project, this is the example he chooses of Muni's incompetence.   

In a Leland Yee administration, everyone accepting public money will be investigated regarding 30-year-old acts of animal cruelty. And Vick will be arrested at SFO when the Eagles arrive to play the Niners.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly

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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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