Thad Brown was a tax collector for San Francisco. Image courtesy of History Center, SF Public Library.

Thaddeus ‘Thad’ Brown was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1927. Before becoming San Francisco Head Tax Auditor, father of seven children, and constructor of groundbreaking social progress, he came from humble beginnings. Brown was drafted into the military, serving as a Tuskegee Airman, and was not able to continue his education until the late 1940s. After serving in one of San Francisco’s military branches, Brown decided to stay and pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees from San Francisco State College and Golden Gate College. This was where he was first introduced to the field of public administration, where his true talents were discovered. By 1969, he had attained the “highest civil service post reached by a black employee in the city’s history,” with many labeling him a genius and history changer as he became the head tax collector.

Though this was an amazing achievement, Brown was also subject to public racial scrutiny. Being the highest-ranking African American administrator in the San Francisco government, Brown achieved a powerful public status that was accompanied by massive public pressure. Brown was in the process of becoming one of the most influential black figures in the city’s history. Both he and Willie Brown were often understood and analyzed with the same kind of appreciation. In his first years of public office during the early 1970s, he instituted the city’s first payroll/income tax and raised business taxes, which increased the San Francisco’s revenues and annual income. Even with this contribution, he continued to face racial discrimination. Media outlets and local government employees often argued against him getting pay increases even though he had been getting paid less than the majority of other public service officials.

Brown’s increased tax rates caused some businesses to flee in order to avoid these taxes. Yet, because of the rapidly growing financial state of San Francisco as a whole, a net gain in income and new businesses neutralized any effect from select businesses choosing to operate elsewhere.

Things were playing out splendidly in Brown’s career—he oversaw a staff of 127 persons (including attorneys, auditors, and investigators)—until the infamous ‘Metergate.’ In 1978, Brown and sixteen of his employees had been suspended and charged for the embezzlement of city parking meter funds amounting to $3 million. He believed the suspension was racially biased and planned on filing a lawsuit but later decided against it. On March 24, 1978, Brown was suspended during an audit of the tax collector’s office but returned on March 30 to work (Cone). Chief Administrative Officer Roger Boas placed him on a six-month probation while his office was being audited where he would work on special jobs before he could return to his position as tax collector (“Gets Job Back”). Roger Boas, who led this investigation, later admitted there was “no evidence that Brown knew of or had any involvement in the operation.” Nonetheless, Brown faced serious political and public scrutiny for these accusations. After returning back to his office in May 1978, his first task was to address the speculation that workers were getting paid for a full day after only working four hours. He instated a strict 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. workday rule.

Brown admitted that he temporarily lost some of his passion for public service due to the racial bias of these investigations. This did not set him back in terms of his campaign for the position of City Assessor in November 1978, and he was able to win this seat once again. Another case of racial discrimination against Brown occurred in 1994—this time it was allegations against his office by the Leonoudakis brothers. His office was accused of not collecting millions of dollars from the Candlestick Park taxes but Brown believed he was once again racially targeted (Gordon). Unrelated to the Candlestick Park case, Mr. Brown decided to retire that same year from his long career of public service.

Thaddeus Brown worked with tireless ambition throughout his career. During his last years as head tax collector, he instituted stiffer penalties and looser deadlines regarding the payment of taxes, especially for small businesses. This resulted in minimized tax fraud and an increase in small business revenue. After serving as tax collector for almost 25 years, he retired in 1994 and lived out his last months focusing his energy and time on his personal life and supporting his wife, Rosalie, and his seven children. Brown passed away at the age of 67 on December 16, 1994, suffering a heart attack while driving (Moore). His legacy will be forever cemented within the history of San Francisco and he will be forever remembered as a changemaker.

Marcelo Swofford and Zoe Foster

Works Cited

Cone, Russ. “Amid Racism Charges, Brown Fights for Job.” SF Examiner. 3 Apr 1978, p. 5.

Gordon, Rachel. “S.F. Tax Collector Under Micro- scope.” SF Examiner. 1 Apr 1978, pp. A-1.

Moore, Teresa. “Ex-S.F. Tax Collector Thad Brown Dies.” SF Chronicle. 17 Dec 1994, p. A17.

“Thad Brown Gets Another Job.” SF Chronicle. 7 Apr 1978, p. 5.

“Thad Brown Gets Job Back.” SF Examiner. 3 May 1978, p.1.

“Thad Brown: Tax Collector.” Ebony. Jul 1972.

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