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Et Tu, Nuru?

At our weekly operations coordination meeting Tuesday morning at Public Works, 45 minutes into the meeting a colleague handed another colleague their phone. I have never seen someone’s eyes bug out like that in person. It was both cartoonish and horrific. Based on their facial reaction I assumed that airplanes had just cut through Coit Tower, the Transamerica building, the Golden Gate Bridge, City Hall, and grounded into City Lights – our Left Coast pentagon of poetry and free thought. It wasn’t the look of George Bush, deer in the headlights, it was visceral, and immediate.


We gathered outside our building after the meeting to debrief. We read the news together: our boss, the Director of Public Works, Mohammed Nuru, arrested by the FBI for corruption. We also read that the FBI would be detailing the full complaint at 1:30 P.M.


We all tried to be as productive as possible for those next few hours and by 1:30 P.M., at 1680 Mission, 30 Van Ness, 1155 Market and at the Operations Yard on Cesar Chavez, dispersed among cubicles and conference rooms, hundreds of Public Works employees took a late lunch to listen to the charges. The FBI had hinted that other politicos were involved.


Between 8:45 A.M. and 1:30 P.M. my only clear thought was this: please let this be limited to the alpha dogs, not a systemic corruption of other colleagues at Public Works. The latter was inconceivable, based on my 15 years at Public Works. The former, well, when it comes to individuals and free will, as Kerouac said “nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody.”


That evening, after reading Harry Potter until my daughter fell asleep, I got into bed next to my wife and read the full FBI complaint. My wife was asleep by the time I had read, and reread the complaint. It was 1 A.M.


Our boss, the Director of Public Works, needs to resign now. If I have to report what my wife’s salary is, what stocks we own, on Form 700, so too shall our Director. So far, have we learned about systemic corruption within Public Works? No. No, far from it.  


I understand politics. The public demands a public blood-letting. The City Attorney may be required to follow due process and can’t publicly call for Nuru’s resignation, but I can. We can. Employees of Public Works, in our own free time, using our own personal computers and resources, can speak freely and openly. For goodness sakes, we’re literally in the center of the free thinking universe. I’ve felt powerless all week. 


There is no doubt that Mohammed’s tenure as our Director has concluded. I wouldn’t call for his resignation if it wasn’t such an obvious, necessary statement to make. The failure to disclose relationships with people or entities who are conducting business with the City and County of San Francisco shows an egregious lack of judgement. Form 700. It’s intrusive and invasive, but it’s what we all signed up for, and it’s a privilege to serve the people of San Francisco. 

I agree with Tim Redmond. This isn’t just a bad look for Public Works, this is a bad look for San Francisco. I too, didn’t like the look of four white FBI agents announcing the charges against our community member, against our pride of the Bayview.  


I agree that this is bigger than Public Works. The charges question what is happening at the Airport and at the Transbay Transit Center- at least as it relates to one or two restaurants within those spaces. But as a hard-working, committed employee of Public Works, as a civil, civil servant, I am going to fight the public’s impression that corruption is systemic. What’s tragic about this, is that my colleagues and I feel strongly that there is no one who cared more about our work, and about our City, than Mohammed. No one worked harder, or longer hours. Of that I am convinced. 


For now it appears that the charges are Shakespearean in scale and scope, limited to human frailty, a yielding to temptation by one individual in a position of great authority.


I understand that politics are a bitch, a blood sport, and I like to tell friends that I’m not progressive, I’m left of the left. What does that mean, you’re a socialist? Then I start detailing my platform, that poets & painters, musicians too, should run the government, just so they would change the subject. So I’m not on the progressive bandwagon to demonize anything that moderates do in City Hall because how do progressives run against other progressives? There needs to be an invisible enemy. And it helps if they ride in large shuttle busses to Sillicon Valley.

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