True democracy, parliamentary style
Supervisor Chris Daly explains the basic elements of his proposed
to compel the Mayor of San Francisco to respond to questions
posed by Supervisors once a month.
June 28, 2006
If you've ever watched C-SPAN's
coverage of Prime Minister's Questions, you may have relished
the possibility of incorporating such artful oratory into San
Francisco's political discourse.
Such is the thought of Supervisor Chris Daly who is proposing
a charter amendment to compel the Mayor of San Francisco to
answer questions posed by Supervisors in open chambers once a
Political motivations aside, the ultimate benefits to San Francisco
are increased accountability, sunshine, transparency, and increased
public interest in the body politic.
In its present form, however, Daly's proposal lacks detail in
specifics. Instead, the proposal "authorizes the Board of
Supervisors, in consultation with the Mayor, to adopt ordinances
governing the conduct of the question-and-answer sessions."
Such an approach leaves the door wide open for needed refinement
to a procedure that is wholly parliamentary in structure and hands
partisan Supervisors an unbalanced upper hand in dictating those
Although the spirit of Daly's proposal is good for open government
and democracy as a whole, lacking specifics may be the proposal's
most glaring weakness, and could be its undoing.
More to the point, Daly's model is based on a parliamentary procedure
and structure but lacks the specifics to address the inherent
differences between a parliamentary procedure and San Francisco's
present form of government.
In England's parliament the rules for Prime Minister's Question
Time include tabling oral questions in advance, thus providing
lead-time for the Prime Minister to prepare for a response. Daly's
proposal lacks this basic provision.
Moreover, England's parliament has a non-partisan Speaker of
the House who acts as a referee and functions to maintain the
rules of engagement agreed upon by the house. Daly's proposal
fails to cite how and who will perform this important function.
As well intentioned as Daly's proposal may be, the proposal needs
the refinements to be spelled out before Supervisors vote to place
the proposal on the ballot..
And in the spirit of true democracy, voters also need to have
the many questions raised by such a proposal answered.
The proposal will be considered Friday before the Rules Committee
of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors at 1:00 p.m.