Joe Eskenazi’s piece in this week’s SFWeekly was quality journalism. His depiction of San Francisco’s Kafkaesque maze of city commissions, committees, task forces and working groups struck fear into the heart of any citizen who cares about effective government. And it reminded us of how far we have to go to make City Hall smart and accountable.

San Francisco has countless – no, literally countlesscity commissions, committees, agencies, task forces and working groups. Thirty-four are city charter-mandated, and include groups that perform valuable and necessary services, like the Police Commission and the Planning Department. The mayor’s office, to their credit, recently began listing appointments and vacancies on 61 different boards and commissions. Some estimates put the total number of groups near 120. No one seems to know how many there are for sure.


Because we have no central system in place to track them, we have no way to evaluate what they are doing or how much they are costing us. But we do know that they are costing us – many commissioners are making triple digit salaries and receiving full benefits – often for attending (or not attending) a weekly or monthly meeting. A recent conservative estimate by Supervisor Jane Kim put the total somewhere near $6.5 million annually – and that just includes the groups of which we are aware.

For smart government advocates, the picture Eskenazi paints is a nightmare. When we’re not clear on what data we are collecting and generating, we can’t learn anything from it, never mind use it to improve our city. Many of these groups are no doubt doing great work, gathering valuable data and making common-sense suggestions. We just wish we knew who they were.


So allow us to boldly suggest what apparently no one in city government has suggested before: let’s track them. Our weapon of choice: an Excel sheet. The mayor’s office should make a grid publicly available listing each commission/committee/task force/working group, along with how much taxpayer funding they receive each year, their membership and the group’s annual report. That will allow us to at least begin to see the scope of the structure in place and how we can use what they produce to improve San Francisco.