Proposition B - Limiting Commissioner Hold-Over

Voter Guide
November 1, 2007
This measure appeared on the November 2007 San Francisco ballot.

 

What it does

Most members of City commissions and boards are appointed for a fixed number of years, typically four, and their terms expire when that time is up. Under current law, even when the member's term has expired, the member may continue to serve until he or she is reappointed or until a successor takes office. If neither of those events occurs, the member may continue to serve under the expired term indefinitely. Under Proposition B, an amendment to the San Francisco City Charter, members of City boards and commissions whose terms have expired would lose their seats 60 days after the expiration of their term, unless they were reappointed.

Why it is on the ballot

The City of San Francisco has more than 25 City boards and commissions. These include policy and decision-making boards such as the Fire Commission, the Building Inspection Commission and the Police Commission. There are also numerous advisory commissions and boards such as the Urban Forestry Council, the Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Backstreets Business Advisory Board.

Members of these boards and commissions are appointed by the mayor, the Board of Supervisors and other elected officials. The Board of Supervisors must confirm some mayoral appointees. In addition to the mayor and the board, other elected officials, including the public defender, the city attorney, the district attorney, the treasurer and the assessor, can make a few appointments. Some commissioners serve at the pleasure of the appointing official and can be removed at any time. This ensures that the appointee will follow the policies of the elected official. Other appointments are for fixed terms, ensuring that the commissioner will be able to make independent judgments while being protected from political pressures.

Pros

Supporters of this measure claim:

  • Prop. B would hold appointing officials accountable for making timely appointments to boards and commissions that oversee and set policy for major City agencies and departments. Officials could no longer maintain the status quo by doing nothing.
  • This measure would force new mayors to take seriously the process of appointing people once they take office.
  • This would permit greater political independence of the commissions by preventing expired terms effectively becoming at-will appointments.

Cons

Opponents of this measure claim:

  • This measure could result in boards and commissions throughout City government not having sufficient members for a quorum, thus preventing action on important issues. For example, if approved, this measure could lead to the removal of members of the Planning Commission whose terms have expired, thereby preventing the commission from meeting. This could slow the basic functioning of City government.
  • In some cases, Prop. B could make it easier for supervisors to block mayoral appointments. The way it is today, a mayor could choose to leave a commissioner in his or her seat past the expiration of a term if the mayor suspected the Board of Supervisors would not approve that commissioner's reappointment.

SPUR's analysis

Prop. B would affect most boards and commissions that oversee City departments and would apply only to members whose terms have expired. In some cases, members of boards and commissions have continued to serve for several years after their terms expired, because the appointing officer did not reappoint the member or did not appoint another member for that seat.

Prop. B would not apply to citizen advisory commissioners (such as the Bicycle Advisory Committee), members of several arts and museum commissions, the Retirement Board, or the Health Service Board. The charter already prohibits members of the Police Commission from serving after a term expires, so those commissioners would not be affected by this measure. It also would not apply to new appointees or to those who resign.

Sometimes appointments languish because busy elected officials have other priorities. It can be time-consuming to find new, qualified people who are willing to serve. But retaining a commissioner in an expired term appointment can also have political motivations. If the term has expired, the supposedly independent commissioner is now effectively serving at the pleasure of the appointer. If the commissioner wishes to be reappointed, he or she had best vote as the appointer wishes.

In rare cases, Prop. B could give greater power to the Board of Supervisors. For example, when the supervisors must confirm a mayoral appointment and the mayor wishes to retain a commissioner whom the supervisors do not want, under current law the mayor could simply allow the commissioner to indefinitely serve after an expired term. Under Prop. B, the mayor would be forced to reappoint the commissioner within 60 days after the term expires and send the appointment to the supervisors to approve or reject, or find a new candidate. This could occur with important policy bodies such as the Board of Appeals, the Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors and the Planning, Port, and Recreation and Park commissions. It is possible that the Board of Supervisors could intentionally reject commissioners to prevent the commission from seating a quorum, which would prevent the commission from meeting at all. Alternatively, if the mayor chose to not appoint new commissioners, the same inability to meet could occur.

This measure is a basic good-government fix of a process that has been abused in the past. While we do not like to see measures that could create unnecessary stalemates, the potential downside of preventing a quorum at a commission could still occur today when commissioners resign and appointing officials are slow to nominate replacements. Ultimately, we think that this measure will encourage the mayor and other officials to focus on reappointments and new appointments. Our City has turned over many aspects of governance to citizen commissioners and thus appointments to those commissions should be made with full recognition of their importance. This measure will help achieve that goal.

SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Prop. B.