Imagine answering your phone on a Sunday afternoon only to be greeted by an angry caller complaining about milk on the floor at the Safeway on Market and Dolores streets — only you don’t work for Safeway, you work for a San Francisco supervisor.
Welcome to the world of legislative aides.
I recently interviewed a number of aides about Proposition B, which would eliminate the legal requirement that each supervisor have only two legislative aides. I’ll admit that my mission was a bit self-serving:
The aides are some of the brightest, funniest and most mentally stable people at City Hall, so it was hardly a chore to go around talking to them about their job duties.
The milk incident actually happened to Boe Hayward, aide to Supervisor Bevan Dufty, but all the aides I interviewed have similar stories. Condescending e-mails, bizarre letters and abusive voice-mail messages, it seems, are just part of the invisible job description for a supervisor aide.
After five years on the job, Hayward has more seniority than all but a couple aides — high turnover being at least partially attributable to the stress of dealing with demands of about 80,000 constituents with a staff of only two aides and some volunteers. Each day, aides deal with hundreds of e-mails, more than 50 phone calls and about a dozen unscheduled visits by residents. And, as one aide told me, “They aren’t reaching out to say, ‘good job.’”
Add administrative, legislative and scheduling demands, and you can see why some aides and supervisors are frustrated with the current two-person staffing limit. Of course, some aides I spoke to don’t think there’s a need for additional employees.
“It really depends on which supervisor you’re working for,” one veteran told me. There was one thing everyone agreed on: There’s no way Prop. B will pass. Lamented another aide, “I’d be surprised if it got more than 20 percent votes in favor.”
There are plenty of good reasons to vote against Prop. B. For example, eliminating the requirement that each supervisor only have two aides opens the door to hiring 10 or 20. Plus, Prop. B doesn’t require that all supervisors have the same number of staff members, so unpopular politicians could be granted fewer aides.
The proposition was put on this year’s ballot by last year’s board (which is just another reason to be suspicious of it), and current supervisors have only sheepishly supported it because they know that the main reason it will fail has nothing to do with legislative aides and everything to do with the public’s lack of confidence in the board as a whole. To put it bluntly: Folks don’t want supervisors to have more resources with which to make mischief. Add the fact that a city controller’s report estimates that adding one aide per supervisor would cost San Francisco about a million dollars in salaries and benefits, and “lack of enthusiasm” for Prop. B turns quickly to hostility.
I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t point out that when controlled for population, San Francisco supervisors operate with half as many aides as San Jose City Council members and one-fourth the number of aides allotted to Los Angeles City Council members. While this city’s staffing limitations will likely remain in place because Prop. B is destined to fail, we should at least endeavor to be kind to the dedicated men and women who bravely remain on the job the next time it’s necessary to call and cry about spilled milk.
Oy gevalt! Board MIA for Jewish holiday
‘They must be in mourning over Don Fisher,” my friend said, wryly. I was at a party Monday night and had asked some pals who are politicos what they thought of the Board of Supervisors canceling every meeting this week. “One less week when they can screw me!” another friend said. “If it were up to me, I’d give them the rest of the year off.”
Ostensibly, there are no sessions in honor of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement that began at sunset Sunday, and ended at nightfall Monday.
Indeed, it did seem odd that the board would cancel a Tuesday meeting — and all subsequent meetings this week — on account of a holiday that ended Monday. As board President David Chiu said, this year’s schedule of meetings was set by last year’s board. Chiu said he did reach out to several colleagues to see if he should call a special meeting, but apparently some supervisors (he didn’t say who) had already made plans to be out of town.
“We’ll look at this issue in November when we set the schedule for next year,” Chiu said.
I moseyed down to City Hall on Tuesday at around 2 p.m., hoping to find supervisors sitting in contemplative silence, atoning for the fact that there have only been two board meetings in the past six weeks. Needless to say, that was not the case.
I can report, however, that the lone Jewish supervisor, Bevan Dufty, was hard at work in his office.
What a mensch!