San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman has proposed an amendment to the city charter that would bolster the power of the mayor while also discouraging some of the ballot-measure battles that have gone on in recent years between the Board of Supervisors and the mayor.
"San Franciscans are proud of our city but increasingly frustrated with our local [government], especially with SF's current challenges," Mandelman says in a statement. "This reform package will help City [government] act more like a unified whole rather than a group of loosely affiliated departments."
There are six reforms being proposed in Mandelman's amendment, which will have to go before voters in November 2024 after it's approved by the Board of Supervisors.
1- Repeal the current prohibition on deputy mayors and allow the mayor to appoint deputies who can oversee specific policy goals, such housing or public safety.
2- Allow the mayor authority to fire directors of executive departments overseen by commissions, to clarify the mayor's executive authority and allow a mayor to act quickly if that mayor felt a change in leadership was necessary.
3- Allow the mayor to veto appointments to commissions split between the mayor and the Board of Supervisors. Currently, the board can block mayoral appointments to boards and mayoral commissions, but they mayor does not have the reciprocal power to do so.
4- Make it more difficult for the mayor and the Board of Supervisors to put ballot measures on the ballot. Currently, the mayor can put whatever measure s/he likes on the ballot, and the board has two methods — they can either get four co-sponsors for an initiative, or pass legislation to put something on the ballot with with a six-vote majority. Mandelman's proposal would strip the mayor's power to put measures on the ballot without going through the board, and it would only allow the board the six-vote option. (Citizen-led initiatives done through signature drives would still exist as well.)
5- Authorize a 'Commission Streamlining Taskforce (COST)' to consolidate or eliminate wasteful, duplicative, or inefficient commissions, boards, and advisory bodies.
6- Expand ‘Local Emergency’ powers to expedite contracting, procurement, and hiring to more effectively address longstanding emergencies, such as our homelessness and drug overdose crises with less bureaucracy involved.
Some of these reforms follow along recommendations from a report commissioned earlier this year by TogetherSF Action, the political action group funded by billionaire Michael Moritz. That report, among other things, suggested that giving the mayor more power would help to fix what's broken about City Hall. And it pointed out that the city has 130 different boards and commissions in total, with 55 that have decision-making authority, and that number needs to be reduced.
"I think we should do our job of legislating inside City Hall," Mandelman said in comments to KPIX. "There's still the power of a voter initiative, but I think it would behoove us and increase collegiality and reduce gamesmanship inside this building to have the board pass legislation [only]."
Regarding mayoral power, Mandelman says, "The charter's check on the mayor's authority to unilaterally hire department heads is intended to deter nepotism and cronyism. However, providing the mayor with the ability to get rid of directors of departments within the executive branch would clarify the chain of command."
Mandelman also cites a 15-year-old quote from journalist Joe Eskanazi, now at Mission Local, calling San Francisco "the worst run big city in the United States."
"The concern that our city government is deeply broken is, of course, not new," Mandelman tells KPIX.
But will all of this make it on the ballot next year? And will the progressive bloc on the Board of Supervisors go for any or all of this? Mandelman votes with the progressives at times, however giving the mayor more power likely isn't something they're itching to do. As Board President Aaron Peskin — who maybe, just maybe, could throw his hat in the ring for the mayor's office once again, as he did a decade ago — said back in August when that TogetherSF report came out, "This notion there isn’t a strong mayor system is ignorant. It's not true."
Photo: Gordon Mak