San Francisco Interim Mayor Mark Farrell addresses conflict of interest claim

Wednesday, February 07, 2018 06:00PM
Acting San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell is downplaying potential conflict of interest claims involving his venture capital firm.


SAN FRANCISCO - Acting San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell is downplaying potential conflict of interest claims involving his venture capital firm.

Farrell told ABC7 News reporter Vic Lee on Wednesday that his partner used a poor choice of words when he wrote in a recent email that Farrell's brief stint as Mayor could give the firm a boost.

"As a mayor, I've taken a leave of absence. The mayor's not supposed to have outside employment," said Mark Farrell who added, from the day he was sworn in as the city's top politician, he's taken a leave of absence from his firm Thayer Ventures, which invests in travel technology companies.

As further proof that he means it, Farrell signed an agreement initiated by his firm and sent to the city attorney, that he was officially on leave, that he would receive no compensation and that he would "not perform any job duties."

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But now, a letter has surfaced -- a "confidential" memo written by his company's managing director Chris Hemmeter.

It says in part, Farrell's four and a half month term as Mayor "will inure" -- in other words become an advantage -- "to the long-term benefit of Thayer Ventures."

"I was very shocked to see it was written," said Supervisor Malia Cohen, who was among those we spoke with who wondered if this was a conflict of interest. "My next thought was there should be an investigation into the validity of what was outlined."

ABC7 News asked Mayor Farrell if he had seen the letter before it was sent.

"No," he answered, "I didn't see the final letter. I understand why that was sent."

"Why?" ABC7 News asked.

"Well as my partner mentioned... to ensure investors that after mayor, I would be returning."

Then why was there all the controversy?

"I think," Mayor Farrell responded, "It was perhaps a poor choice of words."

At City Hall, most of those we spoke with who would not go on camera, said the letter doesn't look good but it's not a smoking gun.

Here's the full text of the email sent to limited partners of Thayer Ventures:

"If you have not already seen the news, our partner Mark Farrell was elected last night by his colleagues to serve as Mayor of San Francisco. Since co-foundting Thayer Ventures, Mark has served as an elected member of San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which has been a personal passion for Mark, and has also created many intangible benefits for our work at Thayer Ventures. Mark's final term on the board of supervisors was scheduled to end in January 2019 at which time we were all (Mark in particular) looking forward to Mark devoting 100% of his time to Thayer Ventures. Mark's term as Mayor of San Francisco will end in June 2018, at which time Mark will return full-time to Thayer Ventures, most notably a full 6 months ahead of schedule. We are incredibly excited about this development, both because we believe Mark's role as Mayor of San Francisco (as short as his term will be) will inure to the long-term benefit of Thayer Ventures, and as important as Mark will be 100% dedicated to Thayer Ventures significantly ahead of schedule. Mark will be on sabbatical at Thayer Ventures until his term of Mayor ends this June, which we have prepared for both internally and with our portfolio companies. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out. Again, we are very excited about this development, and look forward to an even brighter future for Thayer Ventures."

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