Mayor Gavin Newsom would be required to come before the Board of Supervisors for a monthly question-and-answer session under a charter amendment proposed by Supervisor Chris Daly this week.
The forum would be conducted within one of the Board of Supervisors’ regularly scheduled meetings and only board members, not the public, would get to make inquiries. According to Daly, the legislation's intention is to facilitate communication between the executive and legislative branches of city government. If adopted by the Board of Supervisors, the proposed charter amendment would be placed on the November 2006 ballot.
Daly said his ordinance was inspired by the British practice of “question time,” a weekly affair within the House of Commons during which the Prime Minister spends a half-hour answering questions from the members of Parliament. Such a forum is needed in San Francisco, Daly said.
“There is a relatively significant structural communication issue between the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors on the whole,” said Daly. “This Mayor has never appeared at the Board of Supervisors, not to introduce a budget, not for a State of the City address, not to comment on an item.”
Daly added that although Newsom sends his staff to the Board of Supervisors meetings, their reports did not always match a subsequent action or statement by the Mayor — a charge debated by Newsom's press director, Peter Ragone.
“What Newsom says privately he says publicly,” said Ragone. “The simple truth is this is unnecessary because the mayor has an open door policy with all the supervisors and almost all of them take advantage of it on a regular basis.”
Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin called Daly's proposal an “intriguing idea” that would allow the public to better understand policy decisions.
“As a supervisor I know what goes on behind the scenes, but nobody else ever gets to see that,” said Peskin, who added that such a forum would also hold the mayor more accountable, because the Board of Supervisors might ask questions overlooked by the media.
Besides Britain, countries holding similar question forums include Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland. The Prime Minister's Questions, as it is called, can often become quite heated, which makes for popular entertainment for the Brits.
“There's already enough arguing and shouting,” said Supervisor Bevan Dufty of the current Board of Supervisors’ discussions, without even throwing the mayor into the mix. “It certainly will be some of the best entertainment in town.”