Proposition C - Moral Turpitude

Voter Guide
June 1, 2008
This measure appeared on the June 2008 San Francisco ballot.
 

What it does

“Moral turpitude” is a term that refers to the conditions and motivations under which a crime was committed, not an action defined in the wording of a law. Courts have made varying determinations of what constitutes moral turpitude in the commission of other crimes, but in general it means that a crime was committed with depravity or moral corruption. As applied to crimes that might be committed in connection with employment with the City, moral turpitude often involves some kind of theft of public property, including materials and services.

Proposition C is an amendment to the San Francisco City Charter that would prevent retired City employees who are convicted of crimes of moral turpitude from receiving the City-funded portion of their pension, if the crimes were committed “in connection with their employment.”

There are two types of retirement from employment with the City: service retirement and disability retirement. Service retirement means that an employee retires because he or she has worked for the City for a specified number of years, or because he or she has reached a specified age. Disability retirement means that an employee retires because he or she is physically unable to continue to perform the duties of his or her job.

This charter amendment clarifies an existing provision in the charter to specify that employees who retire because of disability are subject to the same restriction that prevents other retired employees from collecting the part of their retirement benefits funded by the City if they are convicted of crimes of moral turpitude. If a retiree were denied the publicly funded portion of his or her retirement benefits, the employee still would get back all of the contributions he or she made toward those benefits.

In the 40 years that San Francisco’s existing law has been on the books, only a handful of people have been convicted and denied City-funded benefits under its provisions.

Any retirement benefits that are funded by employee contributions would not be affected by Proposition C or by the existing portion of the charter it would amend.

Individuals and employees of businesses who perform services for the City under contract, as well as City employees who are not covered by the City retirement system, would not be affected by this proposition.

Why it is on the ballot

While only a few people have been denied City-funded benefits under existing law, Proposition C is on the ballot because of a recent court decision regarding a case in which the City tried to enforce that law.

Several years ago, a City employee was convicted in court of stealing auto parts from the City and County of San Francisco. That person later was injured on the job, and retired from City work under disability provisions.

The San Francisco Retirement Board denied the retired employee City-funded retirement benefits based on the moral turpitude rule. This retired employee sued, arguing that the city charter was not clear regarding whether the rule applied to people who retired because of disability. In a decision earlier this year, the San Francisco Superior Court agreed.

The retirement board wanted to clarify this question and explicitly stipulate that the moral-turpitude rule applies to employees who retire because of disability as well as those who retire because of age or length of service with the City. Because a voter-approved amendment to the San Francisco City Charter created the 1966 moral-turpitude law, the only way to modify it is through another charter amendment approved by voters.

The vote at the Board of Supervisors to place this measure onto the ballot was 10-1, with Supervisor Chris Daly the dissenting vote. There had been a proposal for an amendment that would have made the moral turpitude rule apply only to felony crimes. That amendment did not pass. Daly voted for the amendment, along with other members of the Board.

Pros

Arguments in favor of the measure:

  • San Francisco provides its public employees with generous retirement benefits, partly out of an implied trust that these employees will serve the public good efficiently and ethically. The public should not be required to subsidize the retirement of employees who violate this trust, particularly when they violate it with depravity.
  • Prop. C clarifies existing charter language that had been unclear about whether or not someone convicted of a crime of moral turpitude was still eligible for pension benefits even if they retired from the City as a result of a disability. This measure doesn’t impose any new restrictions on disability retirees, but instead clarifies the law by reiterating the intent to include them in the provisions of the existing law, an intent expressed by the voters who passed the original charter amendment in 1966.
  • The government must take measures to safeguard the public’s property from misuse and theft. Proposition C will serve as a strong deterrent against the calculated misappropriation of public property.

Cons

Arguments against the measure:

  • While the intent to discourage criminal behavior in the execution of public duty has merit, this measure casts its net far too widely. Without the failed amendment to specify that this measure would apply only to employees convicted of felonies, it is possible that some longtime employees could be stripped of their City-funded benefits for petty violations of the law.
  • Many employees who chose to retain their City jobs for years easily could have chosen instead to leave for more lucrative positions in the private sector. It is only fair that in return, the City should provide rules governing their eligibility for retirement benefits that are clear and explicit. The moral-turpitude rule instead provides a moving target, with crucial retirement benefits hanging on the matter of an employee’s supposed intent and on the courts’ constantly changing definition of what moral turpitude actually is.

SPUR’s analysis

The purpose of this measure is straightforward — to clarify the language of a long-standing City law and addresses a problem that comes up only rarely. San Francisco voters were clear in their intent in 1966, when they approved the Charter amendment to deny publicly funded benefits to retired employees convicted of crimes of moral turpitude. Proposition C simply clarifies the language of the law to satisfy the concerns of the Superior Court.

While the definition of moral turpitude may be somewhat fluid, and while it would be better if this rule were narrowed to apply only to convictions for felonies, Proposition C is a strong good government measure that deserves our support.

SPUR recommends a “Yes” vote on Prop. C.