City Hall political corruption reaches community-based institutions

Should Trump voters and Chesa recallers dominate a Black landmark?

Steve-Bowdry-London-Breed-Brenda-Wright-by-Ria-Burman-Billy-Cole-Alain-McLaughlin-1400x1033, City Hall political corruption reaches community-based institutions, Local News & Views
Steve Bowdry, London Breed and Brenda Wright – Photo: Ria Burman, Billy Cole and Alain McLaughlin

by SF Bay View Staff

Revised Sept. 21, 2021 – In May, Manny Otiko’s reporting in the SF Bay View broke the story of rampant mismanagement at the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center in San Francisco’s Fillmore District. Since then, additional facts have come to light linking the current problems at the traditionally esteemed community center to on-going political corruption and cronyism in Mayor Breed’s City Hall.

The Booker T. Washington Community Service Center (BTWCSC) at 800 Presidio Ave. has been a mainstay for the Black community in San Francisco since its inception just over one hundred years ago. By the early 2000s, the building the center had inhabited since the early 1950s was run down and unable to meet the evolving needs of its diverse constituents.

In 2006, under the tenacious leadership of Executive Director Patricia Scott and Board President Julian Davis, the center began implementing an intensive strategic plan resulting in the construction of a state-of-the-art multi-million-dollar multi-use complex including a new community center focused on youth and families, gymnasium, child-care facility and affordable housing with dedicated units and supportive services for emancipated foster youth. Additional assistance with the development of the new center came from long-time board member Phillip Stone.

With support from local, state and federal funding opportunities and an impressive capital campaign, the new center broke ground in 2015 and opened its new doors in 2017.

In many ways, the center is ideally poised to do far more for the community it serves than ever before. And yet, with fresh revelations that bad actors on the board of directors closely associated with Mayor London Breed are intent on using their position at the new center to enrich their cronies instead of serving the community, recent events have proved that success all too often falls prey to circling wolves.

Allegations concerning the center’s current flawed governance are coming from its former board president, Julian Davis. Davis, a California attorney specializing in corporate and non-profit governance, returned to the center’s board of directors in 2017 after a five-year hiatus to help the newly reconstructed facility to professionalize its operations. Davis says he encountered stiff resistance from the center’s officers in response to his insistence on basic compliance and proper governance, for which he was controversially and improperly ousted in retaliation in April of this year.

The Bay View recently sat down with Mr. Davis to dig more deeply into the culture of cronyism and corruption that he says reaches beyond existing reports of political corruption at City Hall and ethics violations by Mayor Breed to encompass unethical and unlawful interventions in the community-based nonprofit sector.

Julian-Davis-by-Spencer-Aldworth-Brown-1400x1317, City Hall political corruption reaches community-based institutions, Local News & Views
Julian Davis is a California attorney specializing in corporate and non-profit governance and former board president of the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, undeterred in exposing the corruption and cronyism rampant in San Francisco and the implications it has on the success – or failure – of community-based organizations throughout the city. – Photo: Spencer Aldworth Brown

Davis’s challenges began upon his return to the board when he was nominated and appointed secretary to reinstitute adequate record keeping. The center did not possess a set of board meeting minutes for the roughly five-year period from 2012-2017 during which Laurence Griffin, a close associate of Mayor Breed, had served as board president.

Moreover, Mr. Griffin and the treasurer at the time, Phillip Stone, sought to prevent Davis from obtaining lawfully required approval from the board of directors for a resolution approving a multi-million-dollar loan from the City and County of San Francisco.

The incident prompted Davis to resign as secretary instead of bowing to pressure from Griffin and Stone to breach fiduciary duties. Mr. Stone’s attorney profile on the State Bar of California website shows an extensive record of licensure suspension and disbarment after disciplinary charges and conviction.

Davis says he first became aware of objectionable and unethical activities in connection with Mayor Breed in 2018 when board Vice President Farah Makras reported on conversations between herself and the mayor regarding the center’s hiring process when the center hired Regina Marsh to come from Indianapolis to serve as its executive director. According to Davis, subsequent actions by Ms. Makras and Mr. Griffin, to offer Ms. Marsh additional employment compensation beyond levels supported by the market and prior resolution of the board of directors, directly benefited Makras Real Estate, which received payments for Ms. Marsh’s living accommodations in San Francisco.

Makras Real Estate is owned and operated by Ms. Makras’s husband, Victor Makras, a politically connected real estate mogul who recently resigned from the Port Commission over alleged ethics violations.

Davis alleges that Ms. Makras was at it again earlier this year, after conversations with Mayor Breed, in her attempt to hire the mayor’s close friend and associate, Brenda Wright, as an overpaid consultant to fill the role of interim executive director. Brenda Wright, a former Wells Fargo Community Relations Manager, is also the long-time romantic partner of Steve Bowdry, who joined the board as the organization’s treasurer in 2019.

According to Davis, Ms. Makras stated that she had received assurances from Mayor Breed to pay for the excessive cost of Ms. Wright’s consulting fees with additional grants from the City of San Francisco if the center would hire her. Under state and federal regulations, these proposed transactions are unlawful, representing gross misuses of public and charitable funds as well as unethical conflicts of interest.

Farah-Makras-London-Breed-Sonya-Molodestskaya-Wille-Browns-longtime-girlfriend-at-wine-tasting-event-in-Napa-cy-Sonya-Molodestskayas-social-media-2, City Hall political corruption reaches community-based institutions, Local News & Views
Farah Makras, Mayor London Breed and Sonya Molodestskaya (Wille Brown’s longtime girlfriend) attend a wine tasting event in Napa at the end of August. Molodestskaya’s post on Instagram of this screenshot from Celine Bossart’s Guest of a Guest article tags Makras and Breed. Bossart’s original photo slide is published here: https://guestofaguest.com/san-francisco/events/the-napa-set-stepped-out-for-the-most-fashionable-wine-gala-of-the-summer?slide=9.

When the center subsequently passed on hiring Ms. Wright, Mr. Griffin moved to obtain the position for himself. In a March 28 letter addressed to Board President Carlos Reed, Davis again advised against the proposed insider transaction stressing that his objection to Mr. Griffin’s takeover of the center was not personal but rather based on numerous concerns related to the aging Mr. Griffin’s lack of qualifications, past breaches of fiduciary duties, and cognitive condition.

Davis’s letter explains that Mr. Griffin has no experience running a non-profit community center with a $1M plus budget, that he oversaw a lengthy period of negligent record keeping at the center, and that he suffers from frequent and concerning disorientation and memory loss that are evident to all during meetings of the board of directors. Mr. Griffin’s appointment would not, according to Davis, have shown the appropriate care and prudence expected for the stewardship of substantial public funds held in trust to be used by the community center for charitable purposes.

Mr. Griffin withdrew his name from consideration and arranged with Ms. Makras to improperly remove Davis at the following board meeting. This may have been the only qualification that mattered to Mayor Breed, however, who subsequently nominated Mr. Griffin to serve on the City’s Recreation and Park Commission. Mr. Griffin is scheduled to be sworn in on Thursday, Sept. 23, at 12:30 p.m. at Lincoln Park, without a public hearing before the full Board of Supervisors. The only way a qualified commissioner can now be appointed to the vacant seat is if Mr. Griffin again withdraws his name from consideration.

In response to the cascading mismanagement, cronyism and corruption he witnessed, Davis filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts in May after the center’s executive committee failed to respond to a letter from his attorney requesting that action be taken to address a litany of alleged ethical, fiduciary and legal violations.

The complaint, shared with the Bay View, includes factual allegations of unaddressed embezzlement by the center’s former Executive Director Regina Marsh, the dual role of Carlos Reed as both board president of the center and athletic director of the chief tenant of the center’s gymnasium (Drew School) without any regard for the inherent conflicts in such an arrangement – conflicts that manifested in harm to the center in the form of unpaid rent.

The complaint includes attempts by officers to prevent matters of critical importance to the center from being reviewed and approved by the board (including the executive committee’s efforts to assume exclusive control over the hiring of an executive director while refusing requests by board members for information on candidates in violation of California Corporate Code Section 6334), the refusal of Board President Carlos Reed to accept counsel on corporate governance offered by the center’s attorney and the retaliatory and procedurally defective attempt to remove Davis following his objections to the above matters.

The center has since hired a City Hall insider for the role of executive director pursuant to the same hiring process that Davis alleges was defective under California law. According to Davis, the man in charge of the hiring process, board member Tony Tucker, who until recently worked full time as manager of partnership development for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, was not only improperly appointed by the executive committee to assume control over the hiring process but proceeded to consider only those candidates for the position personally vetted and approved by Mayor Breed.

Tucker and Breed’s choice, Shakirah Simley, is a former aide to Vallie Brown, who lost the District 5 supervisor seat to Dean Preston after being appointed by Breed. Among other neighborhoods, District 5 includes the Fillmore District, where the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center is located.

Not surprisingly then, Davis’ letters to the center’s board of directors are not the only ones to have gone unheeded. In a letter to Board President Carlos Reed dated July 9, Supervisor Dean Preston writes that his “office has heard from constituents and community leaders who have voiced concerns about these allegations.” He continues, “I am writing to request additional information from BTWCSC leadership regarding these serious allegations, including any plans you may have to address the matters raised.”

As of now, Davis reports, there has been no substantive reply to the Supervisor’s inquiry by the center’s board of directors.

In his interview with the Bay View, Davis said he will not relent until the bad actors on this board of directors resign and allow new, competent and appropriate leadership to take the helm of the center. He said his objections are not only related to the unethical and unlawful activities he charges in his complaint to the attorney general.

In a recent email to a large list of community and professional contacts, Davis writes: “Black community organizations require mission-aligned leadership to implement their purpose. Instead, community center VP Farah Makras informed me that many of her friends voted for Donald Trump. Later, her colleague and board member Zach Abrams implied ‘the steal is real’ by questioning whether there could be justice in America in light of Biden’s presidency. These are not the types of characters capable of providing appropriate community-based leadership in San Francisco.”

Adding that this same cabal of board members is currently promoting the recall of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, one of the most progressive and Black Lives Matter-sympathetic DAs in the country, Davis reiterated how unacceptable and inappropriate their board membership is for a Black, community-based organization in San Francisco.

The politics of the center’s namesake, Booker Taliaferro Washington, were hardly radical by contemporary or modern standards. His Atlanta Compromise capitulated to segregation as much as it enjoined Blacks and whites alike to “cast down your bucket where you are” in civic friendship and mutual aid. His philosophy, however, embraced Black excellence and leadership in education and industry, and promoted the foundation and maintenance of community institutions like the one bearing his name in San Francisco’s Fillmore District.

Here at the Bay View, we cannot understand how Mayor Breed’s interventions at the Booker T. Washington center could possibly serve that legacy. After supporting the mayor’s campaign, we demand accountability of our cultural institutions to the basic causes of social justice. If there is one take away from recent events at the Booker T. Washington center, it is that this humble purpose is sorely missing.

Bay View staff can be reached at editor@sfbayview.com or 415-671-0789. We will continue to follow Julian Davis as he courageously pursues accountability and transparency in this ongoing political scandal of unchecked corruption in City Hall.

Afterword by Mary Ratcliff: The Black community must control Black institutions

In the U.S., slavery was designed to dehumanize. The same dehumanization is practiced under current-day slavery that remains legal under the 13th Amendment in our prisons and jails.

Some Africans managed to free themselves before the Civil War, among them the ancestors of my husband, Dr. Willie Ratcliff. Those heroes traveled to the “no man’s land” they’d heard of in Deep East Texas, where vigilantes were fighting for control of six counties that belonged to no nation. “If you commit to declaring this land free – no slavery – we’ll help you,” they told one faction that was then able to win control.

Calling their new home East Liberty, the Africans acquired some 5,000 acres of fertile land that supplied nearly all their needs. When Dr. Ratcliff was young, the mailman was the only white person allowed on their land; even the sheriff had to ask permission. They governed themselves and they thrived. Most of the adults had college degrees, and the principal of his school, built and run by the community, had a PhD.

Dr. Ratcliff came to San Francisco with East Liberty in his heart. He knows from experience that Black people can control their own communities, their own economy, their own institutions. He has spent his life abolishing barriers – barriers so ubiquitous here that this city, rife with anti-Black racism, has driven out almost all but the last Black man in San Francisco – even under a Black mayor.

The Bay View newspaper’s strong support of Mayor London Breed is not blind. When she compromises the ability of the Black community to control Black institutions, especially one as revered as the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, we feel compelled to object. It’s dehumanizing to prevent Black self-sufficiency.

A rumor that the Bay View was paid to publish this article is absolutely false and insulting. The Bay View has never taken a dime to publish a story, not even an obituary. The Bay View is not for sale, and neither is Booker T. Let us call on the mayor and her friends in high places to recognize the sovereignty of the Black community over its own institutions.

Mary Ratcliff and Dr. Willie Ratcliff, having proudly passed the editorial torch to Nube Brown, continue to serve as publishers of the Bay View and can be reached at mary@sfbayview.com. This is fundamentally the same story published Sept. 12, but the interview with Julian Davis has been revised with additional information and clarification and the afterword by Mary Ratcliff added.