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Archive for the ‘Gavin Newsom’ Category

City’s kids-and-families czar sacked

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
January 29, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO — The popular and respected director of The City’s primary agency serving San Francisco’s children and families has been fired by Mayor Gavin Newsom, officials confirmed Wednesday.

Following months of rumors that Newsom planned to fire her, Margaret Brodkin, four-year director of the Department of Children, Youth and Families, said Newsom asked her to leave her post.

“I don’t know the reasons behind [his decision],” Brodkin told The Examiner on Wednesday.

The move leaves youth advocates fearful that as The City faces a projected $576 million budget deficit for next fiscal year, a voter-approved budget set-aside for child-related needs — one of the DCYF’s largest sources of funding — could be in jeopardy.

Newsom is currently in Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum in Davos. Spokesman Joe Arellano, said he could not discuss the specifics of the firing, citing confidentiality regarding personnel matters.

“Margaret put in great service, but the mayor felt that bringing new blood into DCYF was important,” Arellano said.

Before being hired by Newsom in 2004, Brodkin was the director of the San Francisco nonprofit Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth. At Coleman, she led the grassroots campaign that resulted in voters approving a ballot measure establishing The City’s Children’s Fund, which now supplies more than $30 million of DCYF’s $108 million annual budget.

“We’ve been such an engine of productivity,” Brodkin said. “We’ve developed initiatives with 13 other city departments. I don’t think there’s another department in the city that can make that claim.”

The current leaders of Coleman Advocates said they began hearing from City Hall insiders in November that Brodkin had been fired, according to director N’Tanya Lee.

Newsom wouldn’t discuss the rumors with the nonprofit or The Examiner.

“She’s extraordinarily talented, and I like having talented people around me,” Newsom told the Examiner in December.

In the wake of Brodkin’s dismissal, Lee has launched talks with Newsom’s staff about protecting the Children’s Fund — one of a smorgasbord of budget set-asides the mayor has criticized as limiting The City’s budget-balancing options.

“Our fear is that the Children’s Fund will be raided,” Lee said. “With [Brodkin] gone, we fear that [Newsom] will focus on his political ambitions over protecting the safety net for kids.”

Newsom has appointed Brodkin director of the New Day for Learning initiative, a San Francisco-based organization to connect youth with in-school and after-school services.

Deputy DCYF director Maria Su will immediately take over as acting director of the department, according to Arellano.

Temporary leaders
Several City departments are currently headed by “acting” or “interim” directors, including:
Recreation and Park Department: Jared Blumenfeld
Animal Care and Control: Rebecca Katz
Department of Building Inspection: Vivian Day
Department of Emergency Management: Vicky Hennessy
Department of the Environment: David Assmann
Office of Small Business: Regina Dick-Endrizzi
Department of Children, Youth and Families: Maria Su
San Francisco Zoo*: Tanya Peterson
* Not a city department, but receives city funds and is operated on city-owned land

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

January 29, 2009 at 5:31 AM

Recreation and Park shakeup may have been final straw

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
September 11, 2008

A decision by the head of The City’s Recreation and Park Department to fire a popular manager may have been the reason he was pushed out of a job, officials said Thursday.

Following months of rumors that his job was in jeopardy and closed-door talks with Mayor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday night, General Manager Yomi Agunbiade announced Wednesday that he was stepping down from his post.

Just days earlier, Rhoda Parhams, director of the department’s capital division, told staff she would be leaving, according to spokesman Elton Pon. Agunbiade had taken steps to remove her, a department staffer confirmed.

Jim Lazarus, vice chair of the Recreation and Park Commission, believes the situation with Parhams may have contributed to Agunbiade’s announcement.

“I think that got the mayor’s attention in a negative way,” he said.

Mayor’s Office staff did not return calls for comment Thursday.

Agunbiade has been an unpopular leader, taking heavy criticism from park advocates for his lack of rapport with the public, as well as his handling of a number of bond-funded projects that were designed improperly, behind schedule or over budget.

He has also been at the helm through a number of high-profile crisises, including fatalities at the San Francisco Zoo last December and Stern Grove in April.

Additionally, in July, Recreation and Park Department spokeswoman Rose Marie Dennis was offered a job reassignment after she filed a personnel complaint against Agunbiade, charging him with harassment.

In recent letters to Newsom, supervisors and the department, residents said Dennis and Parhams were park staff who welcomed input from the community, while Agunbiade had a reputation for top-down management and rocky interactions with the public.

Agunbiade will remain in his post while a search team recruits his replacement, according to Newsom’s office.

Agunbiade declined an interview request with The Examiner on Thursday.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

September 11, 2008 at 11:44 PM

Recreation and Park director steps down

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
September 11, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — After months of criticism and rumors that his job was in jeopardy, the embattled head of The City’s Recreation and Park Department, Yomi Agunbiade, is leaving the troubled department.

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office met privately with Agunbiade Tuesday night, according to Jim Lazarus, vice chair of the Recreation and Park Commission.

Agunbiade then reportedly told Recreation and Park staff Wednesday morning that he was stepping down from the job, according to Isabel Wade, executive director of the Neighborhood Parks Council, a city parks-advocacy group.

Commissioners were not informed of the decision or the reason behind it, Lazarus said.

Newsom has asked Agunbiade to remain in his position while a panel of key city staffers identifies a replacement, according to the statement released from the Mayor’s Office Wednesday.

However, talk at City Hall suggests that Phil Ginsberg, Newsom’s former chief of staff, could be tapped to replace Agunbiade, at least until a long-term director can be found, multiple sources confirmed.

Newsom appointed Agunbiade — a former sewer engineer who also worked in the capital divisions of The City’s Department of Public Works and Recreation and Parks Department — to head the park department in 2004.

He has been an unpopular leader, taking heavy criticism from parks advocates for his lack of rapport with the public, as well as his handling of a number of bond-funded projects that were designed improperly, behind schedule or over budget.

And while Newsom put a complimentary spin on the news of Agunbiade’s departure, saying that he had “seen many significant improvements to our park system,” it had long been rumored in City Hall that the Mayor was displeased with his performance.

In the wake of a closed-door performance review last month, a number of those advocates wrote to the Board of Supervisors this week asking for his removal.

“Mr. Agunbiade has not fulfilled the necessary role of accounting for the performance of this department, and cannot assure its future,” wrote resident Linda Harte, one of the letter writers.

The Recreation and Park Commission did make any recommendations regarding his employment, according to Lazarus.

Agunbiade has also been at the helm of the department through a number of high-profile crisises.

The department drew fire after a Siberian tiger escaped her enclosure at San Francisco Zoo and mauled a 17-year-old patron to death on Christmas Day, 2007.

Then, on April 18, a dog-walker was killed in Stern Grove by a limb that fell from a redwood tree arborists had tagged as a potential hazard.

In July, Recreation and Park spokeswoman Rose Marie Dennis filed a complaint against Agunbiade, charging that he harassed her regarding her appearance and religious beliefs in a series of notes over a multi-year period.

“I think he finally saw the handwriting on the wall, or perhaps the mayor pushed him out,” Wade said.

As general manager, Agunbiade was responsible for overseeing the operation of the department, which includes roughly 900 personnel, according to the controller’s office. He was earning $198,822 per year in the post – the top of the salary range for the general manager’s job, according to the controller’s office. He was an at-will employee, not under contract, according to the City’s human-resources department.

Officials did not confirm whether Agunbiade would be offered another position within city operations.

“Yomi’s a career civil servant — it wouldn’t surprise me if the Mayor asked him to go back to the Department of Public Works,” Lazarus said.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

September 11, 2008 at 9:21 PM

Improved exam scores beat peers, trail ’burbs

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
May 21, 2008

San Francisco public school students continue to outperform students in other urban areas statewide on standardized tests, but they still struggle to keep up with the high scores of the neighboring districts in the Bay Area, according to data released Wednesday by the California Department of Education.

The San Francisco Unified School District’s overall score — based on students’ collective performance on the tests — improved this year, bringing the district to a 764, just a few points shy of the state’s target score of 800 for all schools and districts. Schools are ranked between a lowof 200 and a high of 1,000.

When compared with urban districts across the state, San Francisco continues to come out on top. But the district rubs shoulders with higher-scoring districts, such as Alameda and Palo Alto unified, where students are scoring above 800.

“The fact is, we’re doing better than our peers — but the bar is relatively low,” Mayor Gavin Newsom told The Examiner on Wednesday. “I’m proud of our progress, but we need much more audacious goals.”

Boosting minorities’ performance is one of those goals, according to Superintendent Carlos Garcia.

In SFUSD, black students in The City earned an API score of 582, while Hispanics scored at 649 — compared with 843 for Asians and 849 for whites, according to the California Department of Education.

In the coming years, Garcia said he is hoping to use the API, along with other measures, to track student progress.

Garcia’s plan would pinpoint trouble spots and highlight schools that have stumbled upon ways to help low-performing students succeed, he said.

“We won’t have to hire outside consultants to tell us how to do this — we can use in-house expertise and share information on what’s working,” Garcia said.

Overall, elementary and middle schools in The City are ahead of their peers — urban or otherwise. While 34.6 percent of elementary schools in California scored 800 or higher, 46 percent of San Francisco schools did. Among California middle schools, 24.6 percent reached or exceeded 800 while 31 percent of San Francisco middle schools did so.

However, only one San Francisco high school, Lowell, exceeded 800.

School wears ‘most improved’ honor proudly

“Most improved” can sometimes be a dubious honor, but the leaders of Metropolitan Arts and Technology High, a charter school catering mainly to low-income minority students, are taking it proudly.

Metropolitan saw its Academic Performance Index scores rise 95 points, from 580 in 2006 to 675 in 2007 — its second straight year of 90-plus growth, according to Vice Principal Todd Williams.

The state gives schools and districts a target goal of 800.

The school population is comprised of at least 41 percent black and Hispanic students, with numerous others listing their ethnicity as “multiple.” Black and Hispanic students make up approximately 35 percent of the overall district population.

With 22 students per classroom and plenty of advisors and parental involvement at Metropolitan, which was founded in 2005, students are thriving, teachers said.

“We have a diverse population … with many coming from poverty or violence,” said Abby Benedetto, one of Metropolitan’s teachers. “We’re able to sit down with a student and say ‘Working on this essay is going to be the thing that gets you out of your neighborhood.’”

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

May 21, 2008 at 10:48 PM

Local officials resist immigration sweeps

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
February 26, 2007

In the wake of recent sweeps by immigration officers in San Francisco and on the Peninsula, officials are struggling to assure residents that local police are not cooperating with federal deportation efforts.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will weigh a resolution, sponsored by Supervisors Chris Daly, Gerardo Sandoval and Tom Ammiano, that condemns the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. Meanwhile, the newly formed Redwood City Coalition for Immigrant Rights plansto bring a similar resolution to the Redwood City Council and the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and perhaps create a “sanctuary” policy similar to San Francisco’s, in which law officers do not check residents’ citizenship status, according to Sheryl Bergman with the International Institute of San Francisco.

The San Francisco vote comes on the heels of a similar resolution sponsored by Supervisor Sean Elsbernd urging Congress to resume immigration reform talks abandoned last year.

“There are thousands of illegal immigrants living in the shadows, and our quality of life issues still affect them,” Elsbernd said. “They are here and by no means should we ignore them.”

Redwood City police officers and San Mateo County Sheriff’s officers already do not check immigration paperwork, but members of the coalition hope to make that message stronger, according to Bergman.

“A resolution would go a long way toward unifying the community and reassuring [residents],” Bergman said. “These are our neighbors, and we need to insist on policies that respect constitutional rights and public safety.”

Between Oct. 1, 2006, and Jan. 26, 2007, ICE officers arrested 838 people, 500 of whom had already received a deportation order from a judge and 338 of whom were newly entered into deportation proceedings, according to ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice. Those arrests included a number of San Mateo County residents, while ICE officers swept through a San Francisco meatpacking plant and have been seen checking papers in the Tenderloin, according to Renee Saucedo, attorney and organizer with La Raza Central Legal.

“We recognize the fact that local law enforcement has a very different mission from ICE,” Kice said. “But part of ICE’s mission is enforcing immigration laws, and people who are in the country illegally are subject to arrest.”

Redwood City parents kept children home from school recentlyafter a mother was arrested and unable to pick up her children.

Enrollment levels began returning to normal last week, according to John Baker, assistant superintendent in the Redwood City School District.

Those arrests have sparked outcry from immigrant-rights groups and high-ranking politicians alike. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom decried the raids in a statement this month, while Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, told ICE in a letter that its efforts are undermining local police’s efforts to build trust within immigrant communities.

Immigrant-rights groups are planning a series of events this week in San Francisco.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

February 26, 2007 at 10:36 PM