SF supervisors' panel advances 1st Arab American for ethics seat

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Monday May 8, 2023
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Attorney Yaman Salahi was recommended by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' rules committee for a seat on the city's ethics commission. Photo: Screengrab via SFGovTV
Attorney Yaman Salahi was recommended by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' rules committee for a seat on the city's ethics commission. Photo: Screengrab via SFGovTV

An Arab American attorney was unanimously recommended by a San Francisco supervisors' panel for a seat on the city's ethics commission, likely bringing an end to the service of a gay man who has served on an interim basis for the last two years.

Yaman Salahi was recommended on a 3-0 vote by the supervisors' rules committee May 8. He will go before the full board for approval at its May 16 meeting. The term expires February 1, 2029.

Larry Bush, who served on the ethics commission, was praised for his experience, but the committee decided to increase the commission's diversity. Bush's term expired February 1. The seat is filled by the Board of Supervisors. The mayor, city attorney, district attorney, and assessor-recorder each appoint other members.

"I think this is one of the most critical commissions," said committee member District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí. "I thank Larry Bush for his service but today I support Yaman Salahi, who would be the first Arab American on the commission. Immigrant rights are constantly under attack, and Yaman has walked that walk."

Appearing via phone, Bush said that he has served for the last two years on an interim basis. He was the only applicant to apply in 2020, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported. Bush himself helped establish the ethics commission by assisting with drafting the charter amendment in 1994. He served on the Friends of Ethics citizen's group before resigning in 2018 and has served on the civil grand jury.

Bush discussed three priorities he would have if reappointed: improving interaction with the public, getting a secretary for the commission who could serve as a liaison between the panel and the public, and possibly forming an advisory panel for the ethics commission, similar to the elections department.

In an email to the B.A.R. after the meeting, Bush stated, "I wanted greater and broader public involvement, which is why I was involved in new definitions of family that included families like ours, for a full time commission secretary, and better minutes and an advisory panels that make use of former commissioners and staff, and other resources."

During his remarks, Salahi, an attorney who represents plaintiffs in litigation, pointed to his work for members of the Yemeni community and his work at the Asian Law Caucus. He also said that he has represented members of the LGBTQ community in workplace sexual harassment cases.

"My goal is to bring my experience to this role," Salahi said.

Salahi said he has reviewed ethics commission materials and said a priority would be clearing the panel's backlog of work.

During public comment, both men had supporters speak on their behalf. One man said Salahi worked with the Yemeni community during the days of the Muslim ban imposed by former President Donald Trump. A woman who identified herself as Miriam said that Salahi "has widespread support in our community."

Paul Melbostad, a gay attorney and former ethics commissioner, pointed to Bush's experience and said that most of the panel is relatively new. "Larry Bush has been an integral part of the ethics commission for some time," he said.

Charles Head, president of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, also supported Bush. Head said that both he and Bush served on the civil grand jury.

Safaí said that the ethics commission is critically important in maintaining a check on city government. "We've had top officials plead guilty to federal crime," he said, an apparent reference to former San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, who was sentenced last year to seven years in federal prison after pleading guilty to bribery and kickbacks, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release at the time.

Safaí also pointed out that the ethics commission will be hiring a new executive director, which is something Bush also noted during his remarks.

In his email, Bush stated he did not want to see commissioners become too beholden to an executive director.

"The danger is that executive directors run the commission instead of the reverse and the commissioners become puppets," he stated. "This denies the public real representation on policy and priorities. That would be regrettable."

The ethics commission appointment has been continued since March, as Dorsey noted at the top of the meeting. At a recent rules committee meeting when it was continued, Dorsey said it was so that more people could apply. At that time Bush was the only applicant. While Bush was on the phone to speak to the committee then, Dorsey continued the matter without hearing from him.

Bush did not respond to an email message seeking comment.

A third man, gay attorney David Tsai, a former chair of the San Francisco Bar Association, had also applied this time, but Dorsey said Monday that Tsai had withdrawn from consideration.

Updated, 5/8/23: This article has been updated with comments from Larry Bush.

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