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San Francisco supes beef up mayor’s ‘question time’

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San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell appears before the Board of Supervisors at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, March 13, 2018.

The mayor’s appearance once a month to answer city policy questions from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors could get livelier and more robust under changes proposed by Supervisor Aaron Peskin.

Peskin’s proposed legislation was approved 2-1 at the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee on Wednesday and will now heads to the full board for a vote next Tuesday.

Currently, the mayor appears at the Board of Supervisors meeting once a month to answer questions submitted from eligible supervisors. The supervisor asks the question during the meeting and the mayor usually reads a prepared statement. Even and odd district supervisors rotate once a month to ask the mayor a question.

Voters in 2010 passed Proposition C to require the mayor to engage in city policy discussion with supervisors, but Peskin said that has not been happening effectively.

Supervisors had not submitted questions to the mayor since Sept. 13. 2016, until this Tuesday, when board President London Breed submitted a question to Mark Farrell.

Breed asked Farrell if he would commit in his budget proposal to include at least a 50-cent increase above the minimum wage hourly rate for workers under the Minimum Compensation Ordinance and for The City to pay for at least half of the estimated cost for legal representation for evicted tenants.

Peskin said Wednesday at the committee meeting:

“This legislation seeks to create a bit more structured back and forth without putting anyone in the hot or playing a game with gotcha and I think it’s tailored enough to keep the back and forth brief but also genuine and dynamic.”

Under the proposal, supervisors would be able to submit a topic to the clerk of the board and The Mayor’s Office at noon on Wednesday before the mayor’s appearance.

Supervisors will have two minutes to ask their question and the mayor will have two minutes to answer. The question must be related to the topic submitted by the supervisor.

Based on the answer, the supervisor may ask a follow-up question and the mayor would have to answer. After the mayor’s initial response or follow-question response, the mayor may also ask a question to the supervisor related to same topic.

Supervisors would be able to ask questions to mayor every three months. Supervisors in districts 1, 2, 3, 4 would be the first eligible supervisors on May 1 to ask questions, followed by supervisors districts 5,6, 7, 8 in June and then supervisors districts 9, 10 and 11 in July.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who chairs the Rules Committee and voted in favor of the proposal, added two amendments to Peskin’s proposal. The first amendment would allow the mayor to ask any supervisor a question related to the topic being discussed.

Safai also wanted the topics submitted to the City Attorney’s Office to make sure topics are not broad and to make sure the board is following local and state meeting laws.

Supervisor Norman Yee also voted in favor of Peskin’s proposal to try something new during question time.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani voted not in favor of changing question time with the mayor.

Stefani said she believes Peskin’s changes will be ineffective and that it could lead to divisiveness on the board:

“I don’t see getting a lot out of it.”

Stefani added that the changes will not help develop city policy.

Peskin disagreed and said the changes are what voters wanted to see originally when they passed Proposition C:

“I think when you don’t a have prepared thing that you read and you actually have to think on your feet… that’s real democracy and I think that’s what the people voted for in 2010.”

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