S.F. gadfly stung for conductBy Lance Williams
San Francisco affirmative action officer who claims the city harassed him because he cooperated in an FBI probe of municipal corruption was fired Thursday as Mayor Willie Brown left office.
Kevin Williams, 50, who said he had repeatedly sought to blow the whistle on suspected contracting fraud at the city's $1.8 billion airport expansion project, said he was fired from his $99,000-per-year post at the city's Human Rights Commission shortly after Mayor Gavin Newsom's inaugural.
In a letter, his boss, commission director Virginia Harmon, said Williams was being fired for "egregious" misconduct, including allegedly spending his workday preparing two different lawsuits he has filed against the city.
One suit, which goes to trial next week, claims Williams was demoted after a city executive blamed him for turning state's evidence and getting her indicted in 2000. The other suit claims the city had failed to root out widespread fraud and overbilling on the airport project.
David Tirapelle, a civil service hearing officer who reviewed the case found no credible evidence that Williams was being punished for his testimony or lawsuits and said he deserved to be fired.
"All actions taken against Mr Williams were based on his work performance, " said Linda Ross, chief labor lawyer for the city attorney's office. But in interviews, his lawyers, Eric Safire and John Scott, contended the firing was the city's latest attempt to punish Williams for blowing the whistle on corruption at Brown's City Hall. The city rushed to complete the firing "before Mayor Newsom had a chance to put a kibosh on it," Scott contended.
The timing was significant, said Williams.
"It's a message from Willie Brown -- I go out, you go out," he said. "It was important to Willie Brown, because he must feel that he always vanquishes an enemy."
Brown was unavailable for comment.
For much of his 18-year city career Williams worked at the airport, scrutinizing multi-million dollar public works contracts to make sure that firms owned by minorities and women got their fair share of the work under terms of affirmative action laws.
According to his lawsuits, he ran afoul of the Brown administration after the FBI launched a wide-ranging probe of suspected contracting fraud in 1999.
Williams said he was repeatedly interviewed by FBI agents, and testified three times before a grand jury. In 2000, the grand jury indicted Zula Jones, the top aide to Human Rights Commission director Harmon, for allegedly aiding a white-owned company in an illegal scheme to obtain millions of dollars of contracts that were supposed to go to minority firms.
The charges against Jones were eventually dropped. But while the investigation was under way, Williams claimed Jones pressed him to reveal what he had told the FBI and the grand jury. After she was indicted, Jones accused Williams of turning state's evidence against her, he claimed.
Williams contended Harmon stripped him of his management job and reassigned to him to the commission's downtown office, where he said he was given projects with impossibly tight deadlines and threatened with firing when he failed to complete them.
In filings connected to the civil service hearing, Harmon contended that Williams had done "virtually no work for a year." Although he had been told to stop, he spent many hours of city time on the lawsuits, she claimed.
Williams countered that most commission staffers used their computers for personal matters, and he said he had worked unpaid overtime to make up for doing personal business at work. The city disputed that, and in a decision reached on Mayor Brown's last day in office, the hearing officer affirmed that the city should fire Williams.
Safire, Williams' lawyer, said the firing would go into evidence in the wrongful-demotion case in federal court.
Williams also has filed a taxpayers' lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court, alleging that the giant Tutor Saliba Co., lead contractor on the airport reconstruction project, had defrauded the city of millions of dollars by overbilling. Williams' taxpayers suit parallels a lawsuit filed in federal court by city Attorney Dennis Herrera, who also has accused Tutor Saliba of fraud in connection with alleged overbillings on the airport project. Tutor Saliba has denied wrongdoing. Neither of those cases is set for trial.
Copyright ©2004 San Francisco Chronicle. Published 01/14/2004.