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Board of Supervisor's Empire Building October 5, 2003
by Patrick Monette-Shaw
Checking out the San Francisco Board of Supervisors web site for its upcoming agendas is always frightening, as you never know what nonsense youll see them dreaming up when they arent reading poetry to one another in Board chambers. Yesterday, I checked the Supervisors Rules Committee agenda for October 8, and its a shocker!
Less than a month remains before the November election, and the Supervisors are still scrambling to put another ill-conceived ballot initiative on the upcoming November ballot. [This explains why I have not yet received my voter guide, despite the fact that the election is only 30 days away: The Supes are still hatching plans and brewing mischief, and theyve not turned the witches brew over to the printing firm charged with printing the voter guides!]
Next Wednesdays (October 8) Rules Committee agenda includes discussion of an as yet unnumbered proposition for Novembers ballot involving a City Charter amendment that would both enable the Board of Supervisors to open up-to-three district offices each, in addition to keeping their current City Hall digs ... and at the same time nefariously eliminates any and all limits on the number of staff members each supervisor is allowed to hire. The Charter currently limits each Supervisor to a single City Hall Office, and a cap of just two so-called legislative assistant employees each, but this Charter amendment states that they will be able to hire an unlimited number of additional legislative assistants in job classification code 1835; apparently, hiring less-well-paid secretaries, rather than more legislative assistants at $77,504 each to man the desks in the district offices, never occurred to their inflated egos. As long as the stupidvisors can set aside money in the annual City budget, and as long as they set the number of employees in the Annual Salary Ordiance, theyll be able to hire as many emloyees as they appropriate for such spending. Isnt this a little like the fox guarding the hen house: The Supes set the Annual Salary Ordinance, they approve the final City budget, and theyll have no oversight on and well have no accountability over how many employees they are allowed to hire to their hearts content.
So what's this Charter amendment likely to cost San Francisco taxpayers? Either nobody knows which is not uncommon for the 11 progressive Supervisors who get progressively vaguer every time it comes to discussing the actual costs of their continuing shenanigans or the people who should know arent telling us, since they dont want to frighten the horses. In this case, it is none other than one Harvey Rose, the contracted-out Budget Analyst the Board of Supervisor has hired for years, and Harvey may be mum on costs in order to placate his employers, the Supreme Supes.
An attachment to agenda item 3 (file number 030852) includes a memo from Mr. Rose dated October 2, 2003. [Readers should note that yet again, the Supes sneakily uploaded this agenda item late in the afternoon on Friday October 3, hoping the media and the public wouldnt notice it over the weekend in order to prepare for the Rules Committee meeting October 8.] Sadly, Rose memo is riddled with a lack of estimates for what this Charter change will cost taxpayers annually. Rose, bless his heart, did acknowledge that if each Supervisor was to hire a single new legislative analyst, it would cost $1,023,052 annually. Rose dryly noted, possibly with tongue in cheek, Any additional staff [beyond one for each Supervisor] would further increase such annual personnel expenditures. Well, gee, no kidding Mr. Rose!
Who among us believes for a moment that if there will be no limit to the number of employees they are allowed to hire, that this group of progressives wont progressively hire just as many people as they want, with no oversight or limits to constrain patronage spending? Is there a village idiot in town who believes the Supes will restrain themselves from the very patronage they lambasted Mayor Willie Brown over?
Things get worse. Not only will they be allowed to hire just as many potential friends or possible campaign contributors not to mention friends of Aunt Marys brothers cousin Bobs father as they please, they will be allowed to open up not just one, but possibly up to three branch offices (just like a bank has branches) in their districts. Oh boy, all those mom and pop storefronts that are vacant now have 11 supervisors as potential renters! This will indeed prove a boon to the Citys ailing rental market, when not a boondoggle at taxpayer expense. And Aunt Marys brothers cousin Bobs mother will likely be most grateful that her storefront was finally rented out, but not before it received a substantial makeover for the new tenants. A sure vote-getter!
So what will the branch locations cost taxpayers? Again, Rose despite knowing how to use both an abacus and presumably a hand-held calculator, given his profession has no idea, or at least isnt sharing it with anyone in his October 2 memo prior to the hearing next Wednesday. Instead, he uses data and estimates from three years ago (2000) to suggest that possibly the supes can use City property in each district, by potentially opening the branch offices in branch public libraries. However, it is then noted that 15 of the 17 branch libraries will be closed during the next two years for remodeling and seismic retrofits, so there goes that idea. Rose also wryly notes that while analyses were done in FY 19992000 to locate alternative City owned property beyond office space in branch libraries say, fire stations, police stations, health clinics and the like, all of which are already cramped as they are as of the writing of this report [Thursday, October 2] Mr. Dunn [of the CItys Administrative Services division] could not identify the amount or availability of such [City-owned space] ... Instead, these eleven unlucky supes may have to rent storefronts.
So how much will it cost to rent 11, and possibly up to 33, storefronts? Well, although Rose cites a $1.50 to $2.50 per square foot commercial rental rate, the abacus appears to have broken down, as he includes no calculations as to how many square feet each supervisor will need to house the single employee or perhaps two employees (a backup to cover the office while the first one is at lunch) for each of the up-to-three branch offices. Rose also is unable to cite ongoing janitorial, utilities and maintenance costs, and potential remodeling charges to ensure the district offices are ADA-compliant and handicapped accessible with ramps, wider entrances, etc.
Rose is able to estimate the initial startup costs for furnishings, computers, telephones and other equipment [lets toss in a fax and a photocopier in order to be able to communicate instantly with Mission Control back at City Hall, where the supes will be able to keep their current offices to be close to the action emanating from the Mayors Office], and that figure is $60,000 per office per supervisor (at potentially 33 district offices, were talking $1.98 million just for initial start-up furnishings). However, Rose is either unable or unwilling to estimate ongoing, annual utilities, janitorial, and other maintenance costs for each branch office, nor does he provide an estimate of the expected life of the initial start-up equipment and furniture, and how often they will have to be replaced and at what cost. Nor does Rose address the contingency of whether a newly-elected supervisor replacing a termed-out supervisors may decide that the current branch location(s) are not practical, and the associated cost of moving to more convenient, or more upscale, digs. Will a new supervisor be forced to live with the termed-out supervisors choice in furnishings, or will they be allowed to redecorate, at uncontrolled expense, in order to ensure the office has sufficient fung shui for their, or their constituents, personality types?
And what of the City Controllers estimates of what this boondoggle is likely to cost? As of Friday, October 3, Rose reports that Mr. Harrington has yet to complete a financial analysis of the costs of this Charter amendment ... with less than 30 days to go to the election at which this Charter amendment is to be put forth for the electorates considered review. Purportedly, Harrington is set to waltz into the Rules Committee on Wednesday to deliver his considered, and hopefully accurate, estimate. Voters may want to pay very pay close attention to Harringtons eventual pronouncement, if only because voters will remember that Harrington issued a voter guide opinion last November on what last years ballot initiative would cost to give the supervisors a raise. Sadly, Harringtons estimate proved to be wholly off course. His so-called estimate last year was premised on the supervisors being awarded a raise to the average salaries paid to supervisors in six other reportedly comparable California jurisdictions, but by the time the Civil Service Commission finished awarding the supervisors their raises, it shot up to the top of the salary ranges, not the average range, and that is how the supes now earn their $112,000 annual salaries, not what Harrington had estimated theyd get. [If anything, Harrington should be required to provide both a low-cost and a high-cost estimate of what this District Offices Charter amendment could conceivably reach.]
To help both Mr. Rose and Mr. Harrington out, TheLastWatch put away its abacus and pulled out its computer, launching Excel to do a what if analysis. In the attached PDF file [launch Acrobat Reader first before clicking on this hyperlink], interested readers can learn that this Charter amendment may cost taxpayers between $1.68 million and $8.12 million just for the first year, and end up costing up to $6.14 million annually, thereafter. This analysis examines just four likely scenarios:
1) Each supervisor
opens a single branch office and hires a single new employee
Each of the four scenarios for this proposed Charter amendment is then added together with the current annual costs (which stand at $3.52 million for 11 supervisors and their current 22 legislative assistant). Obviously, the likely permutations could vary, with some supervisors opening up a single office and hiring perhaps six employees, but as a reference point, readers will have something to go on in the event neither Rose nor Harrington is able to provide a reasonably accurate estimate for inclusion in the voter guide.
Given the fact that the City just experienced a purported $347 million dollar deficit, this is the wrong time for the supervisors to even consider aggrandizing themselves with branch offices; after all, they are not working for Bank of America, which people expect to have branch offices, nor is there a dire need to the citizenry for this foolishness. As long as critically-needed city services such as the Mental Health Rehabilitation Facility, and treatment on demand for the substance abuse epidemic rampant in San Francisco remain on the budget chopping block every year, this is no time for the supervisors to be empire building, collecting storefront offices as if they are playing Monopoly with the taxpayers dime.
Outraged voters can present written and oral testimony at the Rules Committee hearing at 9:30 a.m. in City Hall Room 263 on October 8. Tell the supes the Citys economy is in the dumps, and we cant afford this boondoggle now. Remind them since they appear to have forgotten that the Citys budget cant bear another $8.5 million new expense this year or next year, particularly since next years budget is projected to be just as bad. Remind them that City employees just took a 7.5% pay cut to balance the current FY budget, while they got a 300% pay raise. Suggest to them that the 28,000 City employees who are also voters are prepared to vote them out of office. Advise them to continue using the City Hall offices every other Board of Supervisors have used for decades. Tell them there should be a cap on the number of new employees they can hire (suggest they be limited to one, or better yet, none), and tell them to hire secretaries or clerks, not legislative assistants. Tell them that their arrogance has simply become too much! Tell them that theyve had since May 2003 when Supervisor Daly first introduced this proposed Charter amendment, and that Rose and Harrington have had a full five months to have come up with better estimates than the crappy estimates and missing data in this still-not-ready-for-prime-time piece of legislation!
Suggest that they place a not to exceed dollar figure in the language of the Charter amndement for both the number of new hires, and a separate cap on the total cost of rent, utilizies, and remodeling, storefronts. [The latter cap should not be per location, but across all three district offices, combined.]
Tell them that if they put this proposition on the November ballot, that youll vote them from office when they next face re-election. Tell them its too bad the San Francisco Charter doesnt have a recall provision to get rid of out-of-control supervisors mid-term (theyll understand that unless they are totally asleep at the wheel Wednesday morning, just as the bad news begins to seep in about the recall of Governor Davis!). Or tell them to hire the very General Assistance recipients they are trying to throw off of public support by way of Care Not Cash; that would cure two birds with one stone.
If this Charter amendment makes it out of the Rules Committee on Wednesday and onto the November ballot as currently written, TheLastWatch.com urges voters to send this nincompoop legislation into the dustbin of failed progressive initiatives. Given the often-reported level of corruption in City Hall, San Francisco does not need this patronage-inducing temptation staring the Board of Supervisors in the face.