SF Mayor Ed Lee participates in "Question Time"

April 12, 2011 7:11:01 PM PDT
The stage is set, the procedure has been vetted. On Tuesday, the mayor of San Francisco followed the will of the voters and participated in "Question Time" at the Board of Supervisors meeting.

The mayor was detailed, often went over his time limit explaining things, but on what the board president called a historic occasion, the exchange was anything but lively. Mayor Ed Lee is not the Mayor in mind when this policy idea was first discussed. Former Supervisor Chris Daly was targeting former Mayor Gavin Newsom when he put the measure on the ballot. In 2006, voters approved a ballot measure, but it was only advisory and Newsom refused to go along, dismissing it as political theater. This past November, another measure was passed making question time the law.

It won't be anywhere near as spontaneous as the sessions they have in the British Parliament. The SF process calls for questions to be submitted in advance, no later than 5 p.m. the Thursday before the Tuesday mayoral appearance.

The mayor must come in once a month and under the rules, he will be questioned by supervisors from odd numbered districts one session, and even numbered another. Each supervisor only gets one question.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd submitted the following question: "Can you share with us your thoughts on the need for pension reform and the need for benefit reform?"

The mayor has five minutes to answer each one and Lee chose to read his responses.

"Supervisor Elsbernd and I have proposed legislation that reduces city costs in the long term and increases cost sharing by employees in the short term," said Lee.

"I wanted to be detailed enough so I had a lot of information to share with them," said Lee after the question period.

But it wasn't exactly scintillating for some San Franciscans who were there.

"I think unscripted would make a lot more sense because then you get a more spontaneous answer, and perhaps a more honest answer, instead of this droning sort of thing," said San Francisco resident Karen Whalen.

"I don't mean a gotcha contest. I mean a debate," said San Francisco resident Rick Claymore.

"Well, I'll try to be more compelling next time," said Lee.

The format was negotiated between the mayor's office and the board. If a supervisor wants to ask a spontaneous question, he or she has to get a super majority of colleagues to go along with it.

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