Board drops idea of ‘question time’ at mayor’s town hall

The Board of Supervisors has abandoned the idea of holding a special off-site meeting at Mayor Gavin Newsom’s January town hall meeting, but the controversy over the board’s — and the voters’ — desire to have the mayor engage with supervisors in a question-and-answer forum is by no means over.

Newsom has declined to follow the specific language of last November’s voter-approved ballot measure Proposition I, a nonbinding policy statement saying the mayor should appear monthly before the Board of Supervisors at a regularly scheduled meeting to discuss policy. The “question time” proposal was based on the rollicking British House of Commons practice with the prime minister.

Instead, New-som has proposed “policy town hall meetings,” with the first one scheduled in the Richmond district Jan. 13, and has invited the Board of Supervisors to attend. Newsom has said “question time” at City Hall would turn into “political theater.”

The town hall meetings were greeted with opposition from supervisors who say Newsom’s proposal contradicts the will of the voters. Fifty-six percent of voters backed Prop. I on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin proposed the special off-site meeting to meet Newsom “halfway,” but on Thursday he retracted the proposal, expressing frustration over what he called an inability to work out the details of the meeting with the Mayor’s Office. “I think [Newsom’s] behavior on this matter is frankly childish,” Peskin said.

Newsom’s spokesman, Peter Ragone, said the Mayor’s Office was “disappointed” Peskin reversed his position onthe issue of “community involvement and public participation in the governmental process.” He added, “We have and continue to be open to discussion with the board on this topic.”

On Thursday, the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee sent to the full board a nonbinding board policy requesting Newsom attend a board meeting every third Tuesday of the month at City Hall to discuss policy. If approved by the full board Jan. 9, the “question time” with Newsom will go on the Jan. 23 agenda.

Peskin said that if Newsom does not attend, he will push for a charter amendment to go on the November ballot that, if approved, would legally require Newsom to attend the “question time.” It takes six votes by the Board of Supervisors to place a charter amendment on the ballot.

On Thursday, Newsom declined to comment on Prop. I, saying “I have made my position clear” on the idea of coming before the Board of Supervisors. He later said, “If they want to come and engage the community in a real issue, I’m inviting them.”

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said the town hall meetings should not supplant Prop. I. “I have seen his town halls. They are a little bit theater. They are very much scripted,” Mirkarimi said.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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