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Meeting Information

Budget and Policy Committee

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Budget and Policy Committee

Elections Commission

January 18, 2005




  • 1.CALL TO ORDER:  Chair, Michael Mendelson called the meeting to order at 7:04 pm.


  • 2.ROLL CALL:  Present were Commissioners Michael Mendelson, Richard P. Matthews and Gerard Gleason. Also present were John Arntz, Director of the Department of Elections, Deputy City Attorney, Julia Moll and Betty Packard, Chairperson of the Ballot Simplification Committee.


  • 3.Discussion and possible action to approve the minutes for the Budget and Policy Committee meeting of November 16, 2004.  Commissioner Matthews MOVED to approve the minutes, Commissioner Gleason SECONDED.  Motion CARRIED.


  • 4.Discussion of the persistent vacancies on the Ballot Simplification Committee (BSC) and the need to attract and retain qualified applicants to serve on the BSC.  BSC member Betty Packard will address the Budget and Policy Committee to discuss possible causes of and solutions to the vacancy problem.  This committee compiles the information that goes in the Voter Information Pamphlet (VIP).  Ms. Packard gave a brief background of the five-member BSC committee and said that as of their last meeting, the committee had only three members.  She explained that the Municipal Elections Code requires the BSC to complete its work 90 days prior to each election.   On November 30, 2004, the membership terms expired.  On December 15, 2004, the subject of renewal of members went before the Board of Supervisors’ Rules Committee and the three members who are appointed by the Board were reappointed.  Their terms will be for two years.


At the rules Committee meeting, Ms. Packard said she informed the Committee that the School District and the Newspaper Guild’s appointees have not been made and there has been no representation from these appointing authorities for almost three years.  The Chairperson of the Rules Committee instructed the Committee Secretary to send a letter to Mayor encouraging him to work to get additional members on the BSC. 


Ms. Packard stated that she and the current members do not sign petitions, do no belong to political clubs or organizations and work very hard to maintain a very non-political face because of their involvement in the BSC.  Ms. Moll reminded the Budget and Policy Commission that when the BSC was created, the League of Women Voters, one of the  groups which nominate a member to the BSC, did not take positions on ballot issues, but currently the League does take positions.  The Elections Commission reviewed this matter and sent a letter to the League of Women Voters regarding the Commission’s concern that the League takes positions on ballot measures and, on occasion, pays for ballot argument submissions.  


Director Arntz added that he had, at one time, requested that the League not have a member on the BSC because of the League’s political involvement, but the League explained that their representative was from a separate entity – a non-political segment – of the organization. 


Chairperson Mendelson asked Ms. Packard what would be the best thing the Budget and Policy Committee could do to assist the BSC.  Ms. Packard explained that the current members are independent contractors/sole-proprietors/free-lancers of businesses.  This means that, as a rule, the members give up a month of every year to work on the BSC and receive nothing in the way of monetary compensation for their sacrifice.  She reminded the members that the BSC members have only begun to be compensated for their parking expense in the last four years.  Ms. Packard stated that very talented, prospective members have told her that they could not afford to participate without some form of compensation. 


Ms. Packard explained that the BSC members sometimes spend two to three hours in the evening going over the materials for the VIP. 


Ms. Packard suggested that someone talk to the Mayor about encouraging the School District to make an appointment and that someone should go to the Newspaper Guild and ask if they do, in fact, intend to participate by making a nomination to the BSC, and if not, then their nomination slot should be assigned to another group.


Chairperson Mendelson stated that he felt that these actions were probably not the responsibility of the Elections Commission, but perhaps the Commission could seek a per diem compensation for BSC members.


Commissioner Gleason recalled that the last time the BSC had a full membership was 1999.  He said that since that time, the School District and the Newspaper Guild have not put forward replacement members.


Chairperson Mendelson asked Ms. Packard what she thought would be an appropriate per diem amount.  Ms. Packard suggested $50.00 per day.  Chairperson Mendelson asked the Director if this amount was possible within his budge constraints.  Mr. Arntz said that currently, as the budget is structured, it was not, however, he would look into the possibility of providing a per diem for the BSC members. 


Ms. Moll stated that Board of Supervisor approval is required to authorize a per diem in the Department’s budget.


Ms. Packard gave the Committee a demonstration, with exhibits, of how legislation is presented to the BSC, the letters the BSC receives regarding the legislation from interested parties, and the many steps the BSC, with the assistance of the Deputy City Attorney, takes to simplify the information in a more readily understood language for the Voters Information Pamphlet.


Chairperson Mendelson said that the Director and the Deputy City Attorney will need to determine the necessary legislative changes to implement a stipend for the BSC members.


Ms. Packard said that she would attempt to make an appointment with the Mayor to urge him to encourage appointing authorities to make their appointments to the BSC.


Commissioner Matthews suggested that a wider net be cast to obtain members of the BSC.  He suggested that there are many “wordsmiths” in areas of employment other than education and newspapers who would be good candidates.  Director Arntz agreed that this would be a positive move.


Ms. Moll stated that one does not need to be a member or even be affiliated with the nominating organization to be nominated by that organization, and that persons interested in serving on the BSC could approach the nominating organizations and ask to be considered.


Chairperson Mendelson asked Commissioner Matthews to work with Ms. Packard to report to the Rules Committee the result of conversations with the Newspaper Guild regarding their desire to participate in the nomination of a BSC member, to suggest looking for nominations from a wider base of expertise, to seek a per diem for BSC members and put this information forward in a legislative amendment.


Director Arntz asked the Deputy City Attorney if legislation for a stipend could be before the Board of Supervisors in time for the November 2005 election.  Ms. Moll said that there was enough time to present and pass the legislation.


Finally, Director Arntz wanted to commend Ms. Betty Packard for her ten years of work with the Ballot Simplification Committee.  Mr. Arntz asked the Commission Secretary and to place in the official record of today’s meeting, the report of Ms. Packard continuing to work with the BSC on the first day of that committee’s session last year - after she fell and broke her arm and refused to see a doctor until the session ended.   Ms. Packard returned to work the following day with her arm in a cast!  The dedication of this BSC volunteer is so noted.


Ms. Packard asked that this record report her appreciation for the assistance the Director of Elections, the Elections Department and the Deputy City Attorney have given the BSC.


  • 5.Discussion and possible action to recommend that the Elections Commission approve an Election Plan Template.  San Francisco Charter section 13103.5 requires that the Elections Commission approve an Election Plan in advance of each election.  The template would be used by the Department of Elections to prepare the Election Plan for all future elections.  Commissioner Gleason explained that the draft template was to be a starting place for the members to suggest any additions they might want.  Director Arntz stated that he had reviewed the draft and that it was an obtainable goal and that he would implement the template.


Chairperson Mendelson said that the template was to be a directory document, not a mandatory one, a non-binding outline that it was subject to change.


Commissioner Matthews said that he absolutely supports the template, but has some suggestions for additions.


Commissioner Gleason suggested that all additions/changes be incorporated and reviewed by the Budget and Policy Committee and the Director before being presented to the full Commission.


DECISION:  to recommend to the Commission that members review the template and that the Commission Secretary include all comments/additions from the members into one document to be reviewed by the Budget and Policy Committee before presentation to the full Commission.


  • 6.Discussion and possible action to recommend how the Department might meet the budgetary reductions requested by the City, and how the Commission might support Department efforts.  The discussion may include adjusting the rates for paid arguments in the Voter Information Pamphlet to reflect the actual cost of publication, or eliminating paid arguments altogether from the Pamphlet, to realize significant cost savings.  Commissioner Matthews said that he wanted this discussion to allow the Director to inform the Committee of how it may help to support the Department in his efforts to live within the confines of budget constraints.


Director Arntz reported that the Department had to cut $1.8M from its budget.  HAVA grant money for outreach, closing of purchase orders before those orders were completed, staff layoffs earlier than anticipated, and the Controller’s Office’s allowing money in the budget to pay for fringe benefits (instead of these monies coming from the Department’s personnel budget) have helped to meet the budget cut goal.  The Director said that he plans to make further budget adjustments but that further layoffs were not expected. 


Chairperson Mendelson asked the Director when was the last time he had to ask the Board of Supervisors for a supplemental appropriation.  Director Arntz replied that he has never had to ask for a supplemental appropriation, however, the Department did request $75,000 for ethnic media advertisement purchases that was mandated to the Department by the then President of the Board, Matt Gonzales.  Mr. Arntz emphasized that the Department has “never” requested a supplemental appropriation in the years he has been Director.


Chairperson Mendelson asked what will be the budget for the new fiscal year.  Director Arntz replied that this was difficult to answer because there may be a Special Election in October, however, with the June and November elections only, the budget will certainly be between $10 and $12M.


Commissioner Matthews asked about the possibility of increasing rates for paid ballot arguments.  Chairperson Mendelson stated that all the Commission could do was to make recommendations to the Board, and that there doesn’t appear to be any move to change fees or eliminate the paid arguments.


Commissioner Gleason suggested that one way to make the VIP less voluminous, would be to list the organizations and peoples’ names who are in favor or against an argument instead of listing the texts of the arguments.

He suggested that groups might combine their ads.


Deputy City Attorney Moll said that the Department might consider doing a survey of voters asking ‘What do you find most helpful in this handbook?”  Is it the Ballot Simplification Committee Digest, Ballot Arguments, the names under the arguments, or is it the arguments themselves? 


Director Arntz stated that he approves of this approach and would be willing to speak to Board members and the Mayor’s office about this approach, however, he would prefer that someone else, other than the Department, conduct the survey.


Commissioner Matthews suggested that the City undertake a study to see if it would be possible to go to an all postal return ballot and the monies that could be saved.


Ms. Moll stated that a change in state law would be required for state and consolidated elections.


Director Arntz stated that he could attempt to research this idea and put a report together for the Commission.  He suggested that he could put a proposal in the budget to research an all postal return ballot.


Commissioner Matthews suggested that the survey department of the Political Science Department of San Francisco State University might help with this project.  The Commissioner said that he would take the lead to ask assistance from the University.


ADJOURNMENT at 8:20 pm