Short Take: Good and White

Short Take: Good and White

There isn’t much San Francisco does well anymore, but it managed to be pretty good at running elections. That was largely due to a guy named John Arntz, the Frisco elections director. So naturally, they refused to renew his contract.

Elections director John Arntz, who oversees one of the few San Francisco departments that unambiguously accomplishes its core mission, has not been renewed for his post by the city’s Elections Commission.

By a vote of 4-2 after a lengthy Wednesday closed-session meeting, the commission opted to not re-up Arntz for the position he has held since 2002. The position will come open in May 2023.

The vote to not renew Arntz’s five-year term came not quite eight days after the city’s fourth election in the calendar year and fifth election in one year’s time.

Obviously, Arntz must have done something horrible, denied needles to junkies, watched a Dave Chappelle special, rooted for the New York Jets, to compel the election commission to vote him out of a job, right?

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 … The Department successfully ran two elections this year while facing significant challenges, including national threats to election security, mandatory vote-by-mail operations to all registered voters, anticipated increase in voter participation, budget cuts, and the COVID-19 pandemic.”

So he was . . . competent? Better than competent? Actually really good at a job that has become embroiled in controversy in a city mired in failed dreams, but able to run a lot of elections without issue? One might suppose Arntz would not only have his contract unanimously renewed, but get a medal. And perhaps he would elsewhere, but not in Frisco.

Elections Commissioner Cynthia Dai, who voted to not renew Arntz’s contract, said there was no performance-based reason for the commission’s decision. She did not dispute that San Francisco has run free, fair and functional elections for 20 years. Rather, she says, it was time to open up this position to a more diverse field; the city, she said, could not make progress on its racial equity goals without opening up its top positions.

Exceptional competence is fine, but how do less competently run elections further racial equity goals?

“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.”

Rarely does a city official so proudly confess to discrimination on the basis of race. Then again, when a city adopts a program like guaranteed income only for transgender folx who are also “Black, Indigenous, or People of Color,” no matter which of the 97 genders they identify as, following another initiative to  provide assistance to “pregnant people in the Black and Pacific Islander communities,” its rejection of Equal Protection is as flagrant as it is proud.

On the bright side, the commission has graciously allowed Arntz to “reapply” for his job.

Jerdonek told Mission Local that Arntz’s level of performance did not factor into this decision and he looked forward to a competitive process and a broad array of qualified candidates. His  letter invited Arntz to re-apply for his own job next year. Reached for comment, Arntz said he does not yet have a public answer on whether he plans to do so.

Unfortunately, there is little chance Arntz’s race will change when the hiring decision is made.