San Francisco elections commission decides not to renew contract for director because he's a white guy

His name is John Arntz and he’s been handling elections for San Francisco for 20 years. But recently he was told that they elections commission had voted 4-2 not to renew his job, though they did say he could reapply and compete for it. Did Arntz do a poor job and anger someone? No, by all accounts he is considered good at his job, having recently been praised for his work:

In 2021, the Elections Commission wrote to the mayor that “San Francisco runs one of the best elections in the country and we believe this transparent process has allowed us to continue to improve our elections.” In 2020 it wrote him a commendation “for his incredible leadership … The Department successfully ran two elections this year while facing significant challenges, including national threats to election security, mandatory vote-by-mail operations to all registered voters, anticipated increase in voter participation, budget cuts, and the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Since then his workload has only increased. Arntz ran four separate elections this year. So what’s the problem? According to the commission, the problem is that Arntz is a white guy and therefore his position isn’t contributing to the city’s racial equity goals.

This will be the first time since 2002 that the elections commission will conduct a search for other candidates. The move drew astonishment and criticism from the mayor and other Arntz supporters.

Commissioners made the decision not because Arntz is doing a bad job, they said, but because they wanted to give a chance for people of all backgrounds to apply.

“Our decision wasn’t about your performance, but after twenty years we wanted to take action on the City’s racial equity plan and give people an opportunity to compete for a leadership position,” Commission President Chris Jerdonek wrote in an email Monday to Arntz. “We also wanted to allow enough time for a fair and equitable process and conduct as broad a search as possible.”

Commissioner Cynthia Dai said in order to do more than just pay lip service to Mayor London Breed’s push for racial equity, “you have to actually open up your senior leadership roles… otherwise you get in a situation where you are literally waiting for someone to retire for those positions to open up.”

Mission Local points out that local officials including the mayor think the commission is making a mistake.

“I think some folks have forgotten the history of this department,” said City Attorney David Chiu. “Before Director Arntz we had five directors in as many years, ballot boxes floating in the bay and an intense lack of confidence in city elections. Many of us are mystified.”

Added Supervisor Aaron Peskin, “This is commission malfeasance. It almost becomes a justification for Mayor Breed to have letters of resignation from people who go do things that are completely insane.”

Mayor London Breed did not go there, but did say that the Elections Commission’s move was ill-advised.

“John Arntz has served San Francisco with integrity, professionalism and has stayed completely independent. He’s remained impartial and has avoided getting caught up in the web of City politics, which is what we are seeing now as a result of this unnecessary vote,” she wrote…

“This is demoralizing and humiliating to John and to the staff of the department,” Peskin said. “Rarely do you see employees of a department come together to champion their boss and that is the case here.”

Supervisor Peskin is referring to an behind the scenes effort to support Arntz by the people who work for him.

A dozen division managers under Arntz wrote a letter to commissioners praising his management after past high turnover among directors and supporting his reappointment. Mayank Patel, division manager in charge of poll workers and field support, wrote in an email that staff were “gravely concerned” the commission was “actively seeking to remove” Arntz…

Patel, who sits on the department’s racial equity task force, expressed concern about commissioner comments that implied they needed a change because Arntz was a specific race and had served in the role for a long time, and argued the process should be merit-based.

Arntz hasn’t decided whether he’ll compete for his own job. In his position you’d have to question whether the fact that he will still be a white guy will be held against him moving forward. In any case, the city is going to spend somewhere between $30k and $50k to conduct a search for a more diverse replacement.

San Francisco has already recalled three members of the school board and a district attorney for getting carried away with progressive politics. Maybe the elections commission should be next on the voter’s list.

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