Discover more from Gotham by Susan Dyer Reynolds
Despite years of ethical missteps and ties to corruption, the city keeps giving him millions
“If you are going to have an operation where you’re buying political support in the Southeast part of the town, Dwayne Jones is the guy.”
— Chris Daly, former San Francisco supervisor, in 2013
In my column exposing the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s Community Benefits pay-to-play scheme (“Friends with Community Benefits,” July 2020), I predicted a few major players would be hearing from the FBI, including SFPUC then-General Manager Harlan Kelly Jr., his chief strategy officer, Assistant General Manager of External Affairs (and girlfriend) Juliet Ellis, and their close ally and lobbyist, Dwayne Jones. Since then, Kelly has been arrested. Ellis has only been subpoenaed, but she should still be nervous that the Board of Supervisors is finally paying attention.
At a Jan. 20 hearing on the long-awaited SFPUC audit, supervisors questioned why corruption within the Community Benefits program (CBP) — where contractors are “asked” to make large donations to favored nonprofits to get jobs — was allowed for so long, and even proposed dismantling it altogether. Audits and Oversight Committee Chair Supervisor Dean Preston suggested that the SFPUC should account for every penny of CBP and Social Impact expenditures to date, as well as the roles of SFPUC staff.
The oversight committee did a good job asking tough questions, but there was one name that never came up: Dwayne Jones. Inside sources say Ron Flynn, chief of staff to the SFPUC’s new general manager, Dennis Herrera (who also served as lead attorney on government contracting under Herrera in the city attorney’s office), was under “specific orders” not to mention Jones, his nonprofit Southeast Consortium for Equitable Partnerships (SECEP), or discussions that occurred at the joint venture board meetings with the SFPUC.
Despite missteps and ties to corruption, Ellis (a longtime friend who called Jones “her boy” in a 2015 Facebook post) appointed him as a “fiscal agent” for the CBP through SECEP. For years, Jones and his various businesses have made millions from CBP and multiple city agencies. In some ways, Jones reminds me of disgraced San Francisco Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, whose decades of corruption I detailed in April 2019 (“It’s time for Mayor Breed to sweep DPW boss to the curb”). Nuru managed to fly under the noses of four mayors and numerous boards of supervisors, where he continually got promoted. Jones has done the same, with one notable exception: He hasn’t risen to a prominent leadership position — the kind that might bring scrutiny and was ultimately the downfall for Nuru, as well as for Kelly and Ellis. And that may be his shrewdest move of all.
THE INCESTUOUS CITY FAMILY
Prior to my CBP exposé and a subsequent report by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit in December 2020, media mentions of Jones were few and far between, but his escapades went on under the same four mayors as Nuru’s, and, also like Nuru, it all started with Willie Brown.
In 2004, then-mayor Gavin Newsom announced the Communities of Opportunity program, intended to help families living in San Francisco’s public housing. Newsom ponied up $370,000 in city funds to cover the cost of Jones, a top mayoral deputy and friend (Newsom officiated at his wedding) to oversee the program. But after two years and nearly $4 million, the eight programs operated by a dozen nonprofits had little to show for it. Instead, the money was spent frivolously, going back into the pockets of Jones and his allies, until it shuttered.
In 2013, an investigation into bid rigging at the San Francisco Housing Authority involving former Executive Director Henry Alvarez focused on possible co-conspirators (including former Mayor Brown). According to a report by then-City Attorney Louise Renne’s office, Alvarez manipulated the competitive process to steer contracts to specific favored individuals. Jones — who served as a Housing Authority commissioner under Alvarez — was one of them, using inside information from Alvarez to lower his original bid and get the job.
In 2013, a witness came forward claiming collusion between interim Mayor Ed Lee’s campaign and an independent committee that included cash payments and the promise of future jobs for 34 “mostly unemployed men recruited in the Bayview” to promote Lee’s campaign. The witness said he received $150 in cash and a check, which he later provided a copy of. The check came from RDJ Enterprises — a company owned by Jones.
The witness was originally to appear at an earlier press conference for Lee’s rival Leland Yee (who in 2015 pleaded guilty to charges related to the infamous “Shrimp Boy” case) but backed out, apparently with good reason. According to Yee, a group of men arrived at his office in vans looking for the witness, “behaving aggressively” and saying they “intended to prevent the witness from speaking to preserve the honor of Jones.” In a phone interview, Jones admitted to a reporter with The Epoch Times that he knew about the men arriving at Yee’s office during the time the witness was scheduled to appear but claimed “he did not think their presence would be intimidating” and “they just came to see what was going on.”
TANGLED TIES TO NURU AND RECOLOGY
In March 2017, Jones appeared with Nuru at a hearing regarding the proposed Recology rate increase. His role? Ratepayer advocate. But on the website ratepayeradvocatesf.org, Jones and his colleagues at RDJ Enterprises did little to advocate for customers, sugarcoating the increase of $5.70 a month for an “average single-family home” by leaving out increases over the next three years and the fact that, without rebates, proposed charges would increase by an average of 23 percent the first year. In the end, Recology got most of what they wanted from the Refuse Rate Board, which at the time included Harlan Kelly, City Controller Ben Rosenfield, and City Administrator (and Harlan’s wife), Naomi Kelly.
Even more troubling is the tangled City Family web woven by Nuru as DPW’s director, which gave Jones the ratepayer advocate contract while, according to the feds, Nuru was being bribed by Recology Group Government & Community Relations Manager Paul Giusti to push the rate increase through with the Refuse Rate Board. Meanwhile, Jones was also paid by the SFPUC, which votes on refuse rates, to run CBP funds to various nonprofits, including those connected to Jones and his associates at RDJ Enterprises, which included his wife.
As city attorney in 2021, Herrera let Recology off the hook with a settlement for ratepayers that Supervisor Aaron Peskin recently suggested may have left another $100 million on the table. (Jones is still listed on the Recology website as their ratepayer advocate.)
MILLIONS STILL FLOWING TO JONES
Despite his connection to Kelly, Ellis, and Nuru through the CBP and Recology ratepayer hike scandals, Jones is still getting millions of dollars in contracts. His biggest is the SFPUC where, despite my exposé and the NBC Bay Area follow-up, he has a CBP consulting contract that runs from August 2011 to September 2026. The contract was originally for $1.3 million, but Jones has charged the SFPUC $3.7 million to date. Jones also has five other SFPUC contracts or subcontracts totaling $410,000, for which he has billed $672,240. Additionally, he has $101,815 in pending purchase orders related to his construction services contract for the SFPUC’s Headworks Facility, led by one of those now infamous joint venture boards.
The San Francisco Port Commission has also been very good to Jones. His first work for the agency was a $77,000 contract for public outreach in 2017. His company RDJ Enterprises inked a second deal that same year for community relations related to the Seawall Resiliency Project. Right before the Port Commission unanimously awarded the $40 million, 10-year deal to their handpicked team, President Willie Adams said, “Dwayne, I love you.” It was an odd moment of blatant cronyism, even by San Francisco standards.
The original fee for Jones’s work on the seawall project was $198,039; in a 2019 amendment, it was raised to $278,421 and, as of late 2021, it was running over at $398,362 — more than double the initial amount.
In 2019, RDJ Enterprises secured a $75,000 as-needed grant for consulting services, and another $317,894 contract for “environmental consulting” related to a youth employment program. It seems Port Director Elaine Forbes and her commission are all in on Jones: All but one of his contracts is still open, in some cases for many years to come.
‘MEET THE NEW BOSS, SAME AS THE OLD BOSS’
Jones also has contracts with SFO for “concessions analysis” and a “community outreach” deal, as well as a contract with the city administrator for $95,000 dated July 2020 (the same month my CBP expose came out) through June 2021.
When Jones entered his contract with the city administrator, Naomi Kelly was his boss. After Kelly’s resignation following her husband Harlan’s arrest, his new boss (appointed by the mayor) became Carmen Chu, who re-upped Jones’s contract after it expired. According to SF OpenData, Jones and SECEP have received $1.5 million from the city administrator’s office, and Chu has an active $137,000 contract with Jones for FY 2021-22. In the words of The Who, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” That’s from their classic 1971 song “Won’t Get Fooled Again”; however, in 2022, the city administrator is either getting fooled or she is oblivious to what went on before her.
So, what does Jones do with all that money? One source says he “drives a Bentley around the East Bay after he was told by Harlan Kelly not to bring it to San Francisco.” He also moves money around his various organizations, from which he donates to various political campaigns that presumably benefit him in some way. In a recent filing, his political action committee Californians for a Diverse and Effective Government (CALDEG), run from the same office as SECEP, disclosed a $11,000 contribution to “Stop the Recall of Faauuga Moliga” while RDJ Enterprises donated another $21,000. That $32,000 is noted as “major funding” in advertising literature for Moliga, one of three board of education members facing a recall on Feb. 15. The same filing lists attorney James R. Sutton as CALDEG’s treasurer. A longtime political powerhouse, Sutton handled campaign finances for two independent expenditure committees that raised millions in soft money for Willie Brown’s 1999 mayoral reelection campaign.
To date, Jones and his firms have received at least 14 contracts and have been paid $4,525,994 by various agencies, with total contracts valued at more than $6 million. Interestingly, Jones never billed a dime against his contract with Nuru to serve as Recology’s ratepayer advocate. “Dwayne doesn’t do anything for free,” one insider said. “Did Recology pay him off to help Nuru push through their illegal rate increases?”
Then there’s the millions Jones and his organizations have received from the CBP because of his cozy relationships with Kelly and Ellis. At one point, Jones even had an office at SFPUC headquarters so he could be close to Ellis. According to a colleague, Jones was Ellis’s favorite middleman: “Dwayne told the contractors what nonprofit donations would help earn the best scores from Juliet, then Juliet would score them accordingly.” Of course, Jones and his organizations were frequent recipients of those donations. Evidently, when it comes to friends with community benefits, Dwayne Jones is the bestie.
Email: email@example.com. Follow Susan and the Marina Times on Twitter: @SusanDReynolds and @TheMarinaTimes.