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Out SF human resources dept. leader sails through supes panel

News Editor

Carol Isen spoke during her hearing Monday before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors rules committee. Photo: Screengrab
Carol Isen spoke during her hearing Monday before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors rules committee. Photo: Screengrab  

Mayor London Breed's nomination of an out woman to run the San Francisco Department of Human Resources sailed through a rules committee hearing Monday, setting up approval by the full Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

The committee — made up of Supervisors Aaron Peskin, chair; gay Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, vice chair; and Supervisor Connie Chan — approved Carol Isen's nomination 3-0. If confirmed, she will be the first LGBTQ person to lead the sprawling department, which provides HR services to the city's workforce of 38,000 across its 60 departments. Since last October, she has served as acting head of DHR.

Prior to that, Isen served in a number of municipal positions such as employee relations director for three years, BART chief labor relations director, and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission director of labor relations and community programs.

During her remarks before the committee, which met virtually, Isen said that the rights of all workers must be respected. Referencing her identity as a member of the LGBTQ community, Isen said that trauma at work due to being bullied or being unfairly discriminated against is "intolerable." Referring to communities of color, Isen said she approaches the job with "a commitment to being a full partner."

She paused during her remarks to comment on the recent instances of violence directed at the Asian American and Pacific Islander community: "xenophobia has no place in city employment."

She told the committee members that DHR needs to tighten its internal controls, promote and enforce healthy workplaces, and foster a culture of robust respect in the workplace.

"I'm committed to a highly-focused equity lens," she said.

Isen explained that DHR needs to be modernized and that she's looking forward to a new applicant tracking system. "The department is badly in need of resources," she added.

Prior to Isen's comments, Peskin said he's known her for the better part of 20 years, including her work with organized labor and as a city employee.

During the hearing, Chan, herself a former city employee before being elected supervisor last year, said reform of equal employment opportunity is needed and that department heads need to be held accountable.

"Be it public corruption, harassment, or discrimination, when [they] come to light we know we've gone through a pattern that's built up to lawsuits," Chan said. "I look forward to your leadership."

The City Attorney's office continues to investigate public corruption that was revealed more than a year ago with the arrest and indictment of former Public Works director Mohammad Nuru. Several high-ranking employees have also been swept up in the scandal, including former San Francisco Public Utilities general manager Harlan Kelly. His wife, former city administrator Naomi Kelly, resigned from her job after her husband was charged with fraud. Naomi Kelly has not been charged. Harlan Kelly has not yet entered a plea in his case.

The Bay Area Reporter has reported on three separate cases of alleged discrimination and harassment at the San Francisco Fire Department. Three SFFD employees, all LGBTQ people of color, have filed lawsuits or a claim in recent months. A claim is a precursor to a lawsuit.

During public comment, all the speakers except from one group supported Isen's nomination. The Black Employee Alliance said it did not think Isen provides "the impact for change for Black employees."

Peskin said that Isen's nomination would be heard at the full board March 23.

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