Business as Usual in Room 200

by on June 10, 2004

Mayor Newsom vowed to end “business as usual” in the city, but hearings before the PUC and the Supervisors Finance Committee this week left many asking what he means by the slogan. In both cases the mayor’s office staked out a policy position that it could not justify, and then requested multiple continuances rather than publicly explain their stance. If this is not “business as usual,” it is something worse.

We reported yesterday about a truly bizarre PUC Commission hearing in which President Dennis Normandy justified a continuance on increasing sewer service fees because “we do not want to go against the Mayor when he says we will not put up with ‘business as usual.’.We have a golden opportunity here to do it right, to not just do business as usual.”

Now when we think of “business as usual,” we think of politicians who refuse to make the right decision because a political ally or financial backer wants something else. Normandy clearly had been instructed by the Mayor’s Office not to pass any sewer increase without the approval of Ed Jew, who has threatened to go to the ballot to repeal the sewer fee increase.

Raising sewer rates is unpopular among a small group of Newsom supporters- only five people testified against the increase-and that was enough to secure yet another postponement Normandy voted for the two-week continuance without explaining what possible new facts could alter the need to raise rates.

The force who Normandy saw as advocating for “business as usual” was the Chris Daly-appointed Commissioner Adam Werbach. Werbach and fellow Commissioner Ryan Brooks argued that the fee increase was unavoidable, that the matter had been studied to death, and that delaying the increase would potentially require even steeper raises.

But Werbach’s attempt to break from business as usual and make the right decision for the city regardless of the political impact was rebuffed by our “no business as usual” mayor.

The Mayor’s Office also demonstrated its allegiance to business as usual at yesterday’s Finance Committee hearing. After over a dozen speakers denounced the Mayor’s plan to transfer $1.3 million from the Department of Building Inspection to the Planning Department, Finance Chair Daly announced that the Mayor’s Office had requested a one-week continuance.

No member of the Mayor’s budget staff testified about the basis for their budget request, or the reason they sought their second continuance of this matter.

What happened to all the talk about open debate, civic involvement and the free flow of ideas? The public has come down to City Hall twice on this issue only to see the Mayor’s office request a continuance after the Finance Committee meeting has already begun.

If delaying tough decisions and avoiding public debate on issues is the city’s new way of doing business, then bring back the old ways.

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