Peskin Begins to Reshape Board

by Eric Schaefer on January 20, 2005

With little fanfare, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin submitted five changes of board procedure to a special meeting of the rules committee of the Board of Supervisors yesterday. Supervisor Peskin said that the motions were “straightforward” and should ensure “smoother sailing” for the Board of Supervisors, should the board as a whole choose to adopt them. Two of the motions would overturn rules set by Matt Gonzales during his tenure as Board President.

Rules Committee members Sophie Maxwell and Michela Alioto-Pier agreed to pass on to the Board Peskin’s proposal to eliminate the “legislative week” and his plan to merge the Finance and Budget committees and create separate Government Audits and Oversight committee.

Speaking before the meeting, Peskin aide David Owen said that “as a matter of form” an incoming Board President typically suggests changes to procedure. Owen said that the proposals addressed issues that had come up in the last two to four years and that Peskin hoped that the motions, which will go before the full board on Tuesday, would streamline the workings of the Board of Supervisors.

“Legislative week” was a scheduling change made by former Board President Matt Gonzales, who had hoped that Supervisors could use the time away from hearings to draft legislation and meet with the residents of their districts. Peskin called his proposed change “straightforward” and hoped it would shorten meetings and allow the board more time to “sit down and talk about policy” in front of the public.

The other proposal would merge the Budget Committee, charged with annual appropriations, with the Finance and Audits Committee, which oversees bond issues, taxes etc, into a single Budget and Finance Committee. A Government Audits and Oversight Committee would be charged solely with overseeing labor agreements, audits of city agencies and grand jury reports. Peskin said that the change would improve the “internal memory” of the board, by keeping budget power in on place, and allow the audit committee to focus on auditing. Supervisor Alioto-Pier hoped that it would keep audit procedures out of a “big black hole.”

Peskin also proposed to change the number of supervisors required to bring a motion tabled by a committee to a meeting of the full board. Under the current rules, any single supervisor may call motions out of a committee, even if they have been heard and filed away. Under the proposed changes, it would take the votes of four supervisors. Peskin’s aide, David Owen, said before the meeting that the change is meant to “empower the committees as policy review bodies” by making it impossible for a single supervisor to “subvert” a committee’s decision. After consultation with the city attorney, over finer points of procedure, the rules committee voted to continue this motion to its next meeting

Finally, rules committee chairwoman Sophie Maxwell asked that the rules continue Peskin’s proposal to change the board’s voting rules. The proposal would have recorded a no vote from a supervisor who failed to vote within the time determined by the president. Maxwell was “concerned” that a supervisor should be forced to vote.

The proposals Peskin submitted at this meeting were the ones that he mentioned when he was sworn in as president 12 days ago. In the same speech he vowed to take a “seek and destroy” attitude toward corruption and practice good government. Debate at this hearing was largely technical, so it is hard to see what bearing the decisions made yesterday will have on Peskin’s new project.

There was no public comment at the hearing.

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