SF supervisors OK Isen to lead human resources dept.

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Tuesday March 23, 2021
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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

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved an out woman to head up the Department of Human Resources.

Carol Isen, a member of the LGBTQ community, was approved on a vote of 11-0.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who also voted for Isen's nomination at a rules committee meeting Monday, March 23, stated that he was pleased to see her confirmed.

"It sends a strong message to the city's LGBTQ workers, and all of our 38,000 city employees, to have an out woman leading our Department of Human Resources for the first time," he stated to the Bay Area Reporter.

"The department has some serious issues that need to be addressed, but Director Isen's decades of experience with the City and County of San Francisco and with organized labor give me confidence that she is up to the task," he added.

Mayor London Breed had nominated Isen to the post March 9. She put out a statement after the board's vote.

"As we look ahead to San Francisco's recovery and the challenges that are before us, I'm confident that Carol Isen is the right person to lead the Department of Human Resources," the mayor stated.

During Tuesday's board meeting, Isen was asked about workforce equity.

"I do intend to set the tone from the top," she said.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen talked about the time it takes to hire a city employee, which she said she previously discussed with Isen.

"I beg you to come in with a fresh set of eyes and make some major change," Ronen said.

Supervisor Ahsha Safaí brought up the city's practice of contracting out work instead of hiring workers and said it creates frustration.

Mandelman brought up the "sheer number of vacancies" in city departments such as the Department of Public Health and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Isen reiterated what she said during the rules committee hearing, that DHR is under-resourced but that a new applicant tracking system, expected to come online this summer, will help departments know how the process is going for prospective employees.

There are about 175 employees at DHR, Isen said, with many of them dealing with workers' compensation issues.

The sprawling department provides HR services to the city's workforce across its 60 departments. Since last October, Isen 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 rules committee, which met virtually, and included Supervisor Aaron Peskin, chair, and Supervisor Connie Chan, 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 B.A.R. 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 Monday, 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."

At Tuesday's meeting, Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton said that he would continue with proposed legislation for changes related to equity, including hiring an independent investigator to oversee equal employment complaints. He urged Isen to work with the city's Human Rights Commission and Office of Racial Equity

"I am committed to legislation for these changes," he said.

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