Board of Supervisors president: a hall monitor for City Hall 

click to enlarge The Board of Supervisors president has zero authority, but he or she does get to lead the Pledge of Allegiance like a big kid.
  • The Board of Supervisors president has zero authority, but he or she does get to lead the Pledge of Allegiance like a big kid.

When I was in high school, both of my older brothers played soccer. To kill time after school while they practiced, I became the “soccer manager.” This was a strange title, because I didn’t “manage” anything or anyone. All I did was fill Gatorade bottles and make sure the equipment was on the bus.

This experience reminds me of the presidency of the Board of Supervisors. Because being the president of the board comes with about as much authority as being the soccer manager.

Sure, the president gets to appoint supervisors to committees, but board committees simply are not that powerful. By way of background, when proposed laws are introduced, the president sends them to one of several committees for a full hearing. Otherwise, meetings of the full board would be even longer than they are now.

In some legislative settings, the person in control of the committee is important because he or she can prevent certain laws from being considered by the full legislature or kill a bill by voting against it. But that’s not the case in San Francisco. Here, if some committee chairperson refuses to schedule a hearing, any group of four supervisors can call the proposed legislation to the full board just 30 days after it’s introduced. The same goes for laws that are suspended in committee — any supe can force the committee to re-hear the item within 12 months. Even when all committee members hate a certain law, it still goes to the full board for a vote, albeit with a negative recommendation. Amendments made in committee can be un-done by the full board.

Even the procedural rulings that the president makes throughout the meeting can be overridden by a majority vote.

The reality is that presidential powers are limited to the following: representing the board at city functions, imposing a 30-day hold on legislation that needs time for more review, sitting in on committee hearings when there aren’t enough members to constitute a quorum, and leading the Pledge of Allegiance (just one more reason Supervisor Jane Kim, who refuses to recite the pledge, probably won’t get the nod).

Let’s face it: the board president is basically a hall monitor, albeit a city hall monitor.

And it’s not necessarily a launchpad for higher elected office. Sure, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, former Secretary of State Kevin Shelley and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano were each board president, but so were Angela Alioto, Matt Gonzalez and Aaron Peskin.

In fact, a number of supervisors who have gone on to higher office were never president, including state Sen. Mark Leno, former Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, former state Sen. Carole Migden and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In light of the questionable payoff in being president, and its decidedly unpresidential powerlessness, why would anyone want to be the city hall monitor? Is it merely ego? A desire to have something to do during the meetings?

Maybe, like being the soccer manager, it simply beats watching the grass grow.

Melissa Griffin’s column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at  6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at

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