Why does the mayor appoint supervisors?

Why does he get the choice? (Examiner file photo)

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors just found a replacement for Nadia Lockyer, who resigned in April ("amidst a drug and sex scandal," the Chronicle notes, and you know how much journalists love to use that phrase). The four remaining members of the board deadlocked for a while, then settled on Union City Council member Richard Valle.

All of which makes me wonder, as I often do: Why does the Mayor of San Francisco get to fill vacancies on the Board of Supervisors?

Other county boards fill the vacancies themselves -- and if you don't think the SFBOS can handle that, remember that every two years the 11 contentious folks choose a president, and it doesn't take more than a few hours, and not that long ago, they chose a mayor.

I don't know any other situation where the executive gets to choose legislators. The governor doesn't fill seats in the state Assembly. The president doesn't fill vacancies in Congress. There's an important balance of powers issue here, and it has played out to the detriment of democracy in the past. At one point, more than half of the sitting supervisors had been appointed by Mayor Willie Brown. There was no balance; the mayor called all the shots.

Imagine if, instead of the mayor secretly huddling with advisors and choosing a new supe, the Rules Committee took applications and nominations and then the full board, in open session, debated and discussed and voted. The outcome would reflect the much broader perspectives of 10 district supervisors -- and the person chosen would owe a debt to all of his or her colleagues, not to the mayor.

You can make a good case that the mayor ought to fill vancancies in other elected offices (sheriff, city attorney, public defender etc.); those are, at least arguably, executive offices. Although I could also make the case that the 11 district-elected supervisors should make those calls.

But that's a different issue. The clear and obvious anomaly here is that San Francisco's chief executive gets to choose his own legislators in the event of a vacancy -- and that's just wrong.

Now, in Alameda if they can't reach a decision, the governor steps in. In San Francisco, with 10 voting supes, it seems highly unlikely that we'd ever see a long-term deadlock, but the mayor could step in the break the tie in that case -- or some other city official could, or you could come up with a dozen other solutions. The bottom line is that most of the time, as in Alameda, the board would come to if not a consensus, then a majority vote.

Who's up for some Charter reform?



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