Public integrity probe finds no misconduct by current DBI Director for projects reviewed but highlights unethical tone set at the top by previous DBI leadership
SAN FRANCISCO (January 18, 2022) — San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu and Controller Ben Rosenfield released the following statements today after the City Attorney Office’s Public Integrity Unit issued a report on an investigation into alleged favoritism by the Interim Director of the Department of Building Inspection (DBI), Patrick O’Riordan. The investigation into the allegations found no favoritism by O’Riordan and determined that O’Riordan impartially enforced the building code at the DBI projects reviewed by investigators.
However, the report did highlight the unethical tone set under former DBI Director Tom Hui, which resulted in favoritism towards well-connected individuals with business before the department. Top city leadership was made aware of that culture of favoritism, and yet, Hui remained the Director of DBI and received multiple pay increases.
“Our role as investigators is to follow the facts wherever they lead,” said City Attorney David Chiu. “Thankfully, we are able to report that the allegations made against the Interim DBI Director are without merit. However, our investigation did show just how extensive the problems were under previous DBI leadership. The unethical tone set at the top resulted in a culture that tolerated, if not encouraged, favoritism towards the politically connected. There is no place for that type of behavior in San Francisco.”
“The City Attorney’s conclusion underscores the fact that bad leadership can be corrosive and impact an entire organization even after an individual is no longer in charge,” said Controller Ben Rosenfield. “Righting wrongs is a much harder task, and that’s why ethical guidelines, strong reporting and monitoring programs, and firm penalties for misconduct are critical to establish early on.”
The investigation was prompted by media reports in which two DBI employees, one current and one former, claimed O’Riordan engaged in favoritism and failed to impartially enforce the building code at three projects between 2009-2012 when he was a Senior Inspector. The investigation found no evidence that O’Riordan engaged in such behavior. Further, the two sources who made the allegations were not deemed credible and were found to have a basis for bias and animus against O’Riordan, who had previously disciplined both of the sources. In one instance, the current allegations made by one of the sources directly contradicted statements the source had made in prior interviews with the City Attorney’s Office.
While looking into the claims made against O’Riordan, the investigation drew upon previous reports and findings into wrongdoing and favoritism that occurred under prior DBI leadership. From that examination, the report concludes that a culture of favoritism persisted under the leadership of former DBI Director Tom Hui, and at times, that favoritism resulted in outright corruption. Additionally, top city leadership was made aware of the favoritism that occurred in Hui’s department and failed to hold Hui or the others involved at DBI accountable. In fact, the investigation revealed that Hui’s ascent to the DBI Director position was very unusual, and he was consistently given pay increases even though it was known that favoritism occurred under his watch.
The investigation specifically examines a previously confidential 2014 General Services Administration (GSA) report that details what went wrong at 125 Crown Terrace. That property was owned by former Building Inspection Commission President and former Port Commissioner Mel Murphy, and in 2013, it famously slid off of its shorings and down a hill. The 2014 GSA report detailed “mistakes” that DBI employees made when assigning and conducting inspections at 125 Crown Terrace and calculating building costs that resulted in lower permit fees for the well-connected project sponsor. Top city leadership was made aware of the 2014 GSA report, and yet, no meaningful reforms were enacted at DBI to ensure that a similar situation would not occur in the future. Crucially, the same “mistakes” that occurred at 125 Crown Terrace were allowed to occur just a short time later at another property of a politically connected project sponsor, 555 Fulton Street.
The full report along with exhibits can be found below.
Public Integrity Investigation
Since January 2020, the City Attorney’s Office and Controller’s Office have conducted a sweeping public corruption investigation looking into a variety of possible legal or policy violations in the wake of federal charges filed against former Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru. That joint investigation has led to the resignation of corrupt public officials, millions of dollars repaid to the city and taxpayers, and several comprehensive reports recommending policy changes.
To report suspected public integrity abuses regarding this investigation or others, please contact the Public Integrity Tip Line. You can provide information via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (415) 554-7657. As always, any member of the public may file any allegation of improper or illegal public activity with the City’s Whistleblower Program at sfcontroller.org/whistleblower-program.