The City Charter says the Ethics Commission has to conduct a hearing and make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors whenever an elected official is suspended from office for misconduct. But, there is no formal process in the charter that dictates how to conduct such a hearing.
In the case of suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, the commission is piecing together what its members believe to be a fair procedure. For his part, Mirkarimi is shocked and appalled that a hearing mechanism doesn’t already exist. He recently argued to the California Superior Court that the lack of a codified trial process at the commission means the whole thing is unconstitutional, thus he should be spared a hearing. The judge basically said, “Relax, you haven’t been removed yet,” and tossed out the case.
Undaunted and indignant, Mirkarimi’s attorney stood before the commission last week and began by saying, “The mere fact we are here to try to figure out the rules by which this process is going to work demonstrates the constitutional infirmity of the proceedings, and we object. We object to the commission doing anything other than dismissing the written charges of misconduct and bringing the proceedings to a halt.”
The Ethics Commission was created after voters passed Proposition K in 1993. That proposition set forth the method of removing an elected official, and stipulated that the Ethics Commission must hold a hearing and submit a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. It didn’t articulate specifics about the process, evidence or testimony of a commission hearing. Basically, it contained all the problems about which Mirkarimi now objects.
I checked the 1993 voter pamphlet, and one particularly ringing endorsement for Prop. K stands out. It reads, “We recognize that San Franciscans are losing faith in City Hall. Proposition K will help restore integrity to all levels of our city government. Proposition K will put teeth into San Francisco’s ethics laws, ensuring that they are some of the toughest in the country. Help restore ethical government to San Francisco. VOTE YES ON PROPOSITION K.”
And who signed this endorsement? None other than Ross Mirkarimi.
Supervisors playing hooky
This year, Republican activists introduced an initiative that would make serving in the state Legislature a part-time job. It didn’t get enough signatures, and on April 20 it was pulled out of consideration for the November ballot. Proponents say they will be back in 2014.
It got me thinking about our very own Board of Supervisors. In 2002, voters elected to make “being a supe” a full-time job. Fast-forward 10 years and now a peculiar thing has been happening at the Board of Supervisors: canceled committee meetings. Lots of them.
The board has six committees where three to five supervisors are assigned to hash out the details of proposed laws and report to the full board. There isn’t always a proposal to discuss, so a canceled meeting here and there is no big deal. But so far this year, the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee has canceled four of its eight meetings — already more than in all of 2011 and 2010 combined. The Public Safety Committee has canceled a whopping five of nine meetings and the Joint City and School District Committee has canceled four of six meetings.
Fewer meetings means less mischief, but it also means less work. Perhaps we should revisit the full-time status of our supervisors.
State breaking faith with the voters
In 2010, California voters endorsed Proposition 25, which ended the rule that the annual state budget requires a two-thirds vote in the Legislature. In exchange for allowing a budget to be passed with only a majority vote, the law included a provision that requires the Legislature to pass a balanced budget by June 15 each year or stop getting paid until they do.
Remember how last year the 2011-12 budget looked a tad underfunded until Wizard-in-Chief Jerry Brown simply projected another $4 billion in revenue? We now know that the budget is $5 billion short.
At the time, the only voice of reason was state Controller John Chiang, who saw through this nonsense and, per Prop. 25, stopped the pay of legislators because what they passed didn’t add up to a balanced budget in that place called “reality.” The legislators appealed Chiang’s decision to the Sacramento Superior Court and a judge recently ruled against Chiang, basically saying the Legislature alone has the power to dictate what is a “balanced budget” for the purposes of keeping its members paid.
Sure enough, in the latest act of irresponsible optimism, this year’s state budget assumes $9 billion in revenue from Jerry Brown’s tax measure that will be on the ballot in November.
For those keeping score: We gave up the two-thirds majority rule on passing a state budget and have officially gotten zero on the “we promise to balance the budget like grown-ups” part.
The credit-rating agencies aren’t buying this “fudge-it” budget system of imaginary revenue. After the court ruled Chiang can’t stop the collective hallucinations of the state Legislature, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the state’s credit rating to A-minus, the lowest of any state. When reached for comment, the state of Alabama laughed, yelled “Roll Tide” and hung up the phone.