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The First District Court of Appeal on Friday upheld the San Francisco Elections Commission’s firing of its elections director, Tammy Haygood. Reversing Superior Court Judge James McBride and the city’s Civil Service Commission, the appellate court ruled that Haygood was a civil service employee still subject to a probationary period, and therefore she could be terminated without a hearing or cause. “The Election Commission’s decision to terminate Haygood was proper and did not need to comply with the removal procedures applicable to non-probationary employees,” Justice Paul Haerle wrote in City and County of San Francisco v. Superior Court ( Haygood), A099980. His unpublished opinion was joined by Justices James Lambden and Ignazio Ruvolo. Haygood was Mayor Willie Brown’s choice for elections director. The city administrator hired her in August 2001. At the time she signed a form explaining she would serve a one-year probationary period. A few months later, city voters amended the City Charter to create an Elections Commission to supervise the elections department. The Elections Commission fired Haygood in April of last year, arguing that as a probationary employee she could be terminated without a public hearing or cause. It accused her of spending $5.6 million more than budget for the March 2002 election. Also during her tenure, several ballot box lids were discovered floating in San Francisco Bay following the November 2001 election. In July, the Civil Service Commission granted her petition seeking reinstatement and awarded her back pay. It held she could be terminated only for cause and after a hearing. The Elections Commission challenged that decision in San Francisco Superior Court, but Judge McBride ordered her back to work in September. McBride also ordered the city to continue to pay her salary — $120,000 a year — and provide her with health and other benefits. The Election Commission’s counsel, Jerome Falk Jr. from Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin, obtained a stay of McBride’s order pending the appellate court’s action. At oral argument, Haygood’s attorney, Vernon Grigg III of De Mory & Grigg, asked the appellate panel to declare his client a department head who could be removed only for cause after a hearing. Haerle’s appellate opinion rejected several arguments advanced by Haygood, including the claim that the city charter did not explicitly confer civil service status, and its attendant probationary rules, on the elections director. The charter makes clear that elections department staff is subject to dismissal for any reason during the probationary period, Haerle wrote. “However, under her interpretation of the charter, she, the higher-ranking employee, would receive the immediate protection of removal only for cause,” he reasoned. “Again, absent far clearer language in the charter, we decline to interpret it as creating such an unusual result.”

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