City shines spotlight on commission attendance 

Spotty attendance at some of San Francisco’s boards and commissions — which oversee a multitude of city agencies, from the airport to the zoo — has city officials warning commissioners to put in more face time, or possibly lose their post.

The City has more than 50 commissions and boards, with a majority of the members appointed by the mayor, but many also chosen by the Board of Supervisors and a handful selected by key city officials such as the city controller or the district attorney. Although many commissions are uncompensated, members of some of the more time-intensive boards receive stipends of $50 to $100 per meeting.

Until now, attendance records for these groups — each of which is charged with different responsibilities, from creating policy to reviewing department complaints — has been kept solely within each commission office. Starting this year, annual attendance records will also be submitted to the Mayor’s Office.

Newsom has noted that meeting attendance is one of the factors he would use to consider future appointments and asked that each commissioner strive for 90 percent attendance.

The Mayor’s focus on board and commission attendance follows a Board of Supervisors resolution, co-sponsored by Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Sean Elsbernd and passed in August, urging commissions to adopt an internal attendance policy that outlines what constitutes an excused absence and when absenteeism is considered excessive.

Although commission meeting notes are posted online and available to the public, it is difficult to determine attendance records. Missing meeting notes, as well as the inconsistency of formats — which for some commissions includes failing to note when a group member arrives late or leaves early — highlight the problem. Also, commission minutes do not note if a meeting has been canceled due to a lack of a quorum.

The Examiner combed through the available meeting notes for more than one-third of The City’s commissions and boards in 2006, confirming that some commissioners consistently miss meetings.

For example, two of the nine members of San Francisco’s Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board missed nearly half of the group’s twice-monthly 12:30 p.m. meetings.

The Landmark board’s president, Bridget Malley, said frequent absences made the board’s work more difficult and sometimes forced the group to cancel meetings due to a lack of a quorum.

"I think it’s important, if you’re going to volunteer, you should commit to the time," Malley said.

Several of the members of The City’s Film Commission were also frequent no-shows in 2006. In addition, three of the group’s monthly 2 p.m. meetings were canceled due to a lack of a quorum on the 11-member board. The group met six times in 2006.

"I think we’re pretty much on target for a film commission, we’re not the PUC [Public Utilities Commission] or the Police Commission," said Film Commission Executive Director Stefanie Coyote, who noted that members of the group, appointed by the mayor, do not get paid for their participation. "We still do a lot of work and we have great commissioners."

Despite having more meetings, attendance was strong at many of the most powerful — and time-consuming — commissions, such as planning, police and fire.

"I’ve tried to make it clear to the Mayor’s Office that anyone who takes this job needs to realize the amount of time it takes," San Francisco Planning Director Dean Macris said.

Sometimes a lack of work results in the cancellation of some commission meetings, according to representatives.

The City’s Building Inspection Commission, which reviews building permit appeals, canceled one-third of its twice-monthly meetings in 2006, as a result of having too few items to put on the agenda, according to the commission’s secretary Ann Aherne.

San Francisco’s Airport Commission canceled nine of its twice-monthly 9 a.m. meetings and held five replacement meetings in 2006.

According to airport spokesperson Mike McCarron, meetings are typically canceled because of proximity to holidays or a too-small agenda, but not forattendance reasons.

Presence at meetings tough to track

Since The City does not have a centralized attedance record for all boards and commissions, it is difficult to determine which members are fully participating in appointed posts.

Although a roll call of members is noted at the top of commission minutes posted on The City’s Web site, an Examiner review of the online pages for more than one-third of the 50-plus commissions revealed numerous vague and inconsistent reporting techniques, including only listing the names of commissioners present but not of those absent, and failure to note when commissioners arrived late or left early.

San Francisco’s Public Library Commission, for example, used the phrase, "arrival was expected," for some commissioners who were frequently late to the 4 p.m., twice-monthly meetings.

Meeting minutes also do not indicate when a meeting was canceled due to a lack of a quorum, the necessary board majority to take a vote on agenda matters.

Other boards — including the Planning Commission, the Recreation and Park Commission and the Public Utilities Commission — had not posted meeting minutes for several months, in violation of a city law that requires the notes to be posted 25 hours after approval by commission members at their next meeting.

Appointment makers pick the like-minded, politicos say

Those appointed to commissions often reflect the ideological perspective of the appointer, several political consultants said.

"When you elect a mayor, they get to make appointments, and they’ll appoint people who support similar positions," said consultant Jim Ross, who helped manage Newsom’s 2006 mayoral campaign. "That said, I think the Newsom administration has gone out of its way to get people who are qualified first."

Still, some appointments are politicalpatronage, given to campaign supporters, said one consultant, who did not want to be named.

"It rewards somebody with a little title and a business card," the consultant said.

Other appointed boards have substantial power and have been used as steppingstones to higher office. Newsom’s political career was jump-started when former Mayor Willie Brown appointed him to the Parking and Traffic Commission in 1996; he later was elected president of the PTC.

"It’s an opportunity to show you can build coalitions, do your homework, etc.," said Mike Sullivan, Chairman of Plan C, a moderate San Francisco civic organization.

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Bonnie Eslinger

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