Battle over security costs brewing in City Hall 

The political fight about making public the cost of protecting the mayor and other dignitaries may be decided at the ballot box.

The Police Department — in charge of protecting local and visiting officials — has long refused to release the cost of the security, saying it could jeopardize safety. Police Chief George Gascón recently said the department spent about $2 million on security detail for dignitaries, but would not provide additional information.

The cost issue came to a head when Mayor Gavin Newsom was campaigning for governor — a race he quit in October — and during such travels as when he was married in Montana.

In response to the refusal to release the costs, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi introduced legislation designed to reveal security detail costs — and even have city officials reimburse The City for use when campaigning.

Mirkarimi first proposed the mayor reimburse The City for security costs when engaged in any campaigning activity outside San Francisco. It was amended to require mayors to reimburse the  costs when outside California and campaigning for their own higher office.

Seven members of the Board Supervisors have supported the legislation, but not the eight that would be needed to override a mayoral veto. A second and final vote of approval is expected Jan. 26.

Newsom, who said he would veto the legislation on the advice of Gascón, would then have 10 days for a veto.

With the expected veto, Mirkarimi is turning to the voters. He introduced a ballot measure that, if approved, would make it law for the Police Department’s annual budget to specify how much is allocated “to provide security services to city officials and visiting dignitaries.”

“People have a right to know what the government is spending money on,” Mirkarimi said. “If we cannot affirm the right by legislation, then we go to the ballot.”

Newsom’s spokesman Tony Winnicker criticized the ballot measure as a “back-door attempt” to let the Board of Supervisors decide the appropriate security levels for dignitaries instead of the police chief.

It would take six votes by the board to place the measure on the June 8 ballot.

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