Hi All! Please take a look at the email below. Quite interesting. He has some specific questions that I wasn't sure what the correct answers are, though I already wrote him back a response of my impression of the whole matter. Please advise your thoughts on his experience and what the law has to say about it.
Thanks, Mike, good thinking! This really is a potentially explosive issue that's been dropped in our laps. My best guess is that the information Jay Ensley has disclosed just in this email reveals illegality on multiple levels, and could be a fairly significant political scandal if it were widely known.
I think one of us should write back to Jay Ensley and find out how public he's willing to be with all this. He's already been courageous in complaining about the issue and writing to us; hopefully he won't back down now, but I think we owe him the opportunity to do so before we reveal his identity to the press. After all, this could jeopardize his living situation or expose him to other retaliation.
If he's willing to go forward, I'm thinking that another avenue would be for us to file a joint complaint with him with the Ethics Commission. Perhaps we could also co-sign some letters to the editor. We could even consider filing a lawsuit, perhaps with the help of other Proposition C opponents who we would need to identify and approach.
Pretty amazing; thanks, David. I may have mentioned before that during election season it is routine for UCSF employees to get messages from the chancellor like (I paraphrase slightly), "Although it is not our place to tell you how to vote, we want to make sure that you know that the Regents of the University have endorsed Proposition 30, and that passage of this measure is essential for the future of the University and for your job." When I complained as a new employee 30 years ago, a representative in the legal office admitted that there was a gray area; but we can be sure that these statements have been worded in such a way to guarantee that they can pass legal challenge.
Here's the message from my political attorney friend Peter Bagatellos...see below. He's recommending we talk to the Federal agency who oversees the TNDC. When I called the TNDC they said they operated under HUD which makes sense. I called HUD locally and was referred to an East Coast office to discuss this issue but they were closed already. I'll call them tomorrow but wanted to get this out to you all.
Great you looked into this. TNDC is a 501(c)3 according to their website, so they might be OK if they limit themselves to propositions, as opposed to supporting specific candidates. The unfair side of this, though, is if they are indeed preventing tenants to speak out; even of this is their policy.
My guess is HUD's Federal headquarters might refer you to HUD regional office: San Francisco Regional Office, 600 Harrison, San Francisco, 415 489-6400.
Thanks, Aubrey! I hope Jay gets back to us right away, because I'd like to get the word out to the media about this before the election if possible. We can't know for sure that Prop. C will necessarily pass overwhelmingly just because there's no organized opposition. Sometimes voter reaction to ballot measures is influenced by other factors. My guess is it probably will though because it only needs 50% + 1 to pass.
I may have missed some of the discussion on this, and I am wondering what is the issue here. I do not see that TNDC did anything obviously illegal, if we are talking about their campaigning for/donating to Prop C. Also, since HUD has a million rules regarding tenants of buildings they subsidize, one of the rules might be that tenants cannot campaign inside the buildings or something.
If we are talking about not fair that building agents can campaign but not tenants, OK -- legal but unfair. If we are talking about the money being spent in lobbying rather than building upgrade, the response from your opposition seems obvious -- "We are hoping to invest $10,000 so we can receive much more and do a lot more upgrading than we could with only $10,000!!"
Maybe we could establish what it is exactly that LPSF is going to the media about? Unless, Starchild, when you say "I'd like to get the word out to the media about this," you mean you as an individual, not connected to the LPSF; in which case none of LPSF's concern what the issue is?
Thanks Marcy....what I'm trying to find out from HUD is why tenants cannot campaign in the building but the TNDC can. Don't know if the result will be exciting or not....but that's what it seems is the issue here.
Yes, that situation is indeed unfair, and worth public discussion. I just posted an article regarding another aspect -- taxpayers are footing the lobbying bill. Also, let's keep in mind that whether it is the building agents or the tenants doing the lobbying, taxpayers are still footing the bill in both instance.
Here are the TNDC actions, as described by Jay Ensley, that I think may possibly be illegal:
• "TNDC... has a full-time employee who has been holding meetings, rallies and other events (barbecues, an employee retreat, etc) encouraging TNDC employees and tenants to vote yes on C"
Is this legal for TNDC to do as an employer with regard to their employees? As a landlord with regard to their tenants? I suspect there is a line in there somewhere concerning this sort of thing; whether they have crossed it I don't know, but I suspect the line has to do with whether there was any pressure or threatened retaliation, or employees/tenants felt pressured or reasonably feared such retaliation.
• "I was told that only members of TNDC's campaign committee were allowed to engage in such activities (campaigning door to door)"
I strongly suspect it is illegal for public housing administrators to give themselves a monopoly on campaigning to tenants.
• "I then asked if I, a resident, could go door-to-door campaigning for 'No on C?' I was told that to do so would be regarded as a violation of 'House Rules' and of my lease agreement."
I'm less sure about this, but the legality of such a lease restriction and of limiting the free speech of tenants in this manner sounds dubious to me.
I initially thought it was probably illegal for them to be campaigning as a non-profit, but on further reflection I think this is probably legal for whatever type non-profit they are, because TNDC has been heavily involved in politics for years, and I doubt they would have been so visibly engaged if it weren't legal.
Indeed, those are the obvious suspicions that Jay' letter bring up, and it would be good if we knew any of it to be the case for certain enough to go to the press. So research would be necessary before accusations are made publicly. Since you mentioned "before the elections," I was wondering how this research would be accomplished. We are not just talking about HUD rules. We are also talking about the Housing Authority, Human Services Agency, Elections Commission, San Francisco codes, the SRO's own rental agreements, and verification of who really employed the folks in question and whether they were working on "company time."
On the other hand, if I misunderstood your intent, and what you propose is just to bring this event to the press' attention, without claims of illegality, then you are correct that all that is needed is Jay's permission to use his case. Or, if all you intended is to tip the press on a possible good story, without using Jay's name or direct quotes, then no worries about accuracy.
Also, I forgot to ask why not contact the Senior Management at the TNDC as discuss the issue? BTW, Jay's letter was posted on our discussion list, which is public, so his letter is already accessible to everyone. Just Google his name plus Ambassador Hotel.