City Hall political corruption reaches community-based institutions
“Black community organizations require mission-aligned leadership to implement their purpose. Instead, Booker T. Washington Community Service Center VP Farah Makras informed me that many of her friends voted for Donald Trump.” - Former Board President Julian Davis The post City Hall political corruption reaches community-based institutions appeared first on San Francisco Bay View.
by SF Bay View Staff
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.
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.
Upon returning to the board, Davis says he encountered stiff resistance from the center’s new officers, including board president at the time Larry Griffin, 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.
Davis says he first became aware of objectionable and unethical activities in 2018 when Board Vice President Farah Makras reported on conversations between herself and Mayor Breed 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 the board president at the time, Larry 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. Brenda Wright 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.
Davis filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts in May after the board’s executive committee failed to respond to a letter from his attorney requesting that action be taken to address this and numerous other 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 total 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 also works 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 total 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.
Bay View staff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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