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San Francisco’s Department of Elections Director John Arntz, who local news outlet Misson Local says “oversees one of the few San Francisco departments that unambiguously accomplishes its core mission,” will not have his contract renewed despite his stellar performance. The reason? He does not fit in the city’s “racial equity plan.” I think we know what that means, right?
In 4-2 vote Wednesday, the city’s Elections Commission voted not to grant Arntz a new term for the job he’s had for 20 years.
He may have legal recourse. https://t.co/Nger2Et4zK
— Harmeet K. Dhillon (@pnjaban) November 22, 2022
Elections Commissioner Cynthia Dai, who was one of the “no” votes, said the quiet part out loud: this wasn’t about conduct. It was about skin color (emphasis mine):
“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,” reads an email sent from commission president Chris Jerdonek to Arntz. “We also wanted to allow enough time for a fair and equitable process and conduct as broad a search as possible.”
It definitely doesn’t seem fair and equitable if you’re John Arntz. The move comes despite the commission itself saying multiple times that Arntz was a terrific leader:
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…”
Outrage came swiftly, even among other city officials:
Members of the Elections Commission are tasked with ensuring free, fair, and functional elections and must act in the best interests of the City and County. The decision to dismiss John Arntz after 20 years of impeccable leadership is a dereliction of the Commission’s duty. https://t.co/fiQ7Na3xaK
— Supervisor Catherine Stefani (@SupStefani) November 22, 2022
Mayor London Breed thought the decision was ill-advised, writing, “Rather than working on key issues to recover and rebuild our City, this is a good example of unfair politicization of a key part of our government that is working well for the voters of this city.”
Even his own employees backed Arntz:
All 12 of the managers in Arntz’s department, without his knowledge, wrote a letter to the commission ahead of time pleading with them to re-appoint him. Their input was disregarded and, during Wednesday’s meeting, their letter does not appear to have been acknowledged.
City attorney David Chiu was among those who were flummoxed by the decision:
I think some folks have forgotten the history of this department.
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.
It’s hard to see this as anything other than racial discrimination. Arntz was invited to re-apply for the job, but one can imagine that he would not feel good about his prospects when they seem intent on giving him the boot after 20 years of successful service.
Sometimes I think we’re going backward on racial issues in this country, not forward. In San Francisco, it would seem they’re openly saying they’re ousting this guy for one reason and one reason only: his skin color. That certainly wasn’t the type of world Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned in his “I Have a Dream” speech.
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