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Politics & Policy

At Board of Supervisors, calls for respect at City Hall escalate into finger-pointing

A discussion about conduct among City Hall officials grew personal on Tuesday, with Mayor London Breed and Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton accusing the other of misbehavior at a public meeting. 

The back-and-forth was sparked by an announcement by Supervisor Aaron Peskin that he is seeking alcohol treatment. In a statement issued last Thursday, Peskin said he plans to attend treatment “under the guidance of professionals” and apologized for prior conduct. Peskin’s behavior, which has verged on hostile and aggressive at times, particularly over the past year, raised broader questions around bullying and mistreatment at City Hall. 

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Breed remarked that ”we need to take things a step further” than the codes of conduct currently in place at the Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors’ rules of order set forth some guidelines for behavior at meetings, including a rule against interrupting fellow supervisors without their consent and a prohibition on speaking twice on the same item. 

“I'd like to see a policy that has teeth, that brings members of the board or any elected official accountable for their treatment of people,” Breed told reporters. “Especially in the way that we've seen things happen not just recently, but it's been happening over some time.”

Breed, who herself served as President of the Board of Supervisors until 2018, added that Walton “needs to be an example” to others on the board, and that greater consequences are in order for misbehavior.

“He should...manage this board appropriately and not be someone who's also inflicting harm on city staff and other people who are coming forward to testify with the board,” Breed said. 

Questions around Peskin’s conduct, and by extension conduct at the Board of Supervisors, escalated after a tense meeting last Tuesday that included Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the Parks & Recreation department. During a routine motion to appropriate bond proceeds, Peskin and Supervisor Connie Chan lobbed combative questions at Ginsburg regarding a letter sent by Drew Becher, CEO of the parks nonprofit Parks Alliance, to a group of Supervisors earlier this year. 

During the 20-minute exchange, Peskin told Ginsburg to “wipe that smirk off your face” and accused him of lying.

On Tuesday, Peskin struck a more conciliatory tone and said he was “embarrassed” about his behavior towards other public officials. Peskin said that he plans to remain in treatment for alcohol dependency for “as long as it takes” to address the problem, but said he would remain a full-time member of the board. 

“I have a problem, and I am taking serious steps to address it, and let me say again: I’m sorry, colleagues, and I’m sorry San Francisco citizens.”

In a statement at Tuesday’s meeting, Walton accused Breed of trying to “turn members of this Board of Supervisors against each other.” 

“I have done everything in my power to protect and respect, but I will no longer allow the mayor or her staff to disrespect me or speak my name again without a response,” said Walton. “Board of Supervisors meetings have never been more respectful.” 

Walton then implied that Breed had made members of her staff cry, and called Breed and her team “the real bullies.” 

“All of those things could easily be said about you as well,” said Breed, who had been waiting in the wings to deliver a monthly address before the board, in response to Walton. 

“Earlier today when I spoke with President Walton about some of the complaints I have been hearing from staff about personal attacks and mistreatment, there were strong feelings on both sides. And I believe we can all do more,” said Breed. “The people of San Francisco are counting on us to put aside our differences.”  

Over the next few weeks, the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor’s Office are tasked with negotiating and finalizing the city’s roughly $13 billion annual budget. The budget is due to be signed by August 1. 

Later on in Tuesday’s meeting, the board approved a number of new and routine items.

Those included an ordinance to require regular reports on overdose prevention, another to add provisions to a commercial vacancy tax approved by voters in 2020 and other items. 

Annie Gaus can be reached at