Proposition C - Question Time

Voter Guide
November 1, 2010
This measure appeared on the November 2010 San Francisco ballot.

 

What it does

This measure makes two specific changes to the San Francisco City Charter. One is to add to the 19 existing responsibilities and powers of the mayor a requirement to appear monthly, in person, at a meeting of the Board of Supervisors to formally discuss policy matters with supervisors. The other requires the board to develop the framework for this exchange.

For the past 75 years, the mayor of San Francisco has had the authority to attend the meetings of the Board of Supervisors and sit in on debate. Under the City Charter's list of mayoral powers, the mayor can "speak and be heard with respect to any matter at any meeting of the Board of Supervisors or any of its committees." Therefore, under current powers, the mayor can attend any meeting of the Board of Supervisors, and some mayors have done so. This measure shifts the power away from the mayor to decide whether to appear before the board and makes it a responsibility of the mayor to come to a board meeting.

There may be unintended consequences of requiring the executive branch of government to appear before the legislative branch under as yet unspecified rules and guidelines that have been mandated by the legislative branch. For example, what would occur if the mayor were committed to attend a particular board meeting, and then an emergency somewhere in the city required the mayor's attention? Since the Board of Supervisors could not bring charges of impeachment against the mayor for violating the charter in this regard, it sets up a possible conflict between the two branches without a means for resolution.

Proponents say that in the other 57 California counties, the county executive regularly appears at county Board of Supervisors meetings, and that the general workings of city government can benefit from more open communication among its officials. However, no other county in California — or any other governmental system with an independently elected executive and legislature — mandates such an exchange.

Why it is on the ballot

The idea for bringing the mayor to the Board of Supervisors to engage in policy discussions is modeled after "Question Time" in the British Parliament, which is regularly shown on the C-SPAN cable television network. Question Time in the British Parliament is an opportunity for the opposition party to ask questions of the majority political party. It should be noted that the prime minister is a member of the House of Commons, and that he gets questions before the Question Time meeting and prepares responses in advance.

In November 2006, 56 percent of San Francisco voters passed a non-binding policy statement in support of "Question Time" after a proposed charter amendment similarly imposing an attendance requirement on the mayor did not receive the votes necessary to make it on to the ballot that year. After passage of the policy statement, the mayor chose to comply with its "spirit" by holding monthly town hall meetings with residents throughout the city. All supervisors were invited to attend the meetings in their districts, and some participated.

In November 2007, an identical measure to this one was placed on the ballot with a 6-5 vote of the Board of Supervisors. That measure failed at the polls, 51 percent to 49 percent.

This year, as in 2007, six supervisors voted to place this charter amendment onto the ballot.

Pros

  • This measure would contribute to policy development in the city, encouraging the mayor to offer an opinion on any pending initiative as it goes through the legislative process, and would allow the public to hear the various viewpoints among our City representatives on major policy issues.
  • This measure gives us the opportunity to be unique among North American cities by requiring the executive branch to appear before the legislative branch.
  • This measure would provide citizens with the opportunity to see more face-to-face exchanges among competing viewpoints.

Cons

  • Voters rejected a measure identical to Prop. C only a few years ago.
  • This measure is a waste of time, energy and resources. The mayor can and does meet with most of the supervisors. It makes more sense to have policy dialogue on an ad-hoc basis, not as a requirement.
  • Requiring the mayor's appearance at the Board of Supervisors does not improve the delivery of government service or achieve any policy objectives.
  • This measure is largely a product of the antagonistic relationship between some members of the Board of Supervisors and the current mayor "” all of whom will soon be termed out of office.

SPUR's analysis

Although SPUR believes that more dialogue among the City's leaders and with the public at large is healthy and should be encouraged, mandating this discussion would be counterproductive. The City's system of government makes the mayor accountable directly to the people of San Francisco, not to the Board of Supervisors. While it may sound like a good idea to have Question Time, fundamentally changing this relationship is unnecessary and unwarranted.

SPUR recommends a "No" vote on Proposition C.