Proposition H: Should San Francisco have a public advocate?

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) -- Voters in San Francisco will go to the polls in November to decide if they want to create a new public advocate position that would serve to protect citizens' interests.

The public advocate position would be based at City Hall and would be an elected position. Supporters say the advocate would be an independent watchdog for citizens and would respond to a wide range of complaints filed by residents and businesses. But opponents, however, say the position is unnecessary and gives one person too much power.

The primary function for the role would be to ensure that city residents are treated fairly by municipal government.

'"Someone is asleep at the wheel at City Hall and Prop H would be a wakeup call," said Jon Golinger, the campaign manager who is working to get the measure approved.

He said the public advocate would help citizens whose complaints have been ignored or fallen through the cracks of a massive municipal operation.

"They'll be able to investigate, inform and introduce legislation if they need to solve a problem," Gollinger said.

Opponents of the measure have started airing a television commercial that characterizes Proposition H and other propositions as "dumb, harmful and lots of money."

"We have at least 40 San Franciscans who are elected officials," said California State Assemblyman David Chiu, who opposes Prop H. 

Instead of saving taxpayer dollars, opponents argue that a public advocate, who will have the power to hire staff, will be an added and unnecessary expense. The city controller estimates that it could cost up to $3.5 million annually if the public advocate hires a staff of about 24 people. 

If Proposition H is approved in November, voters will get to elect the person they want for the position in June, 2018.

Chiu insists that every elected official, including the Board of Supervisors, city attorney and others are public advocates.

"I served on the Board of Supervisors for six years," Chiu said. "I received calls from constituents who felt like they weren't heard. We would investigate complaints and follow-up."

"Whistle-blowers who expose wrongdoing by high-level city officials have been treated like threats instead of assets," says Dr. Derek Kerr, who supports Prop H.

Kerr says when he exposed misuse of patient funds at Laguna Honda Hospital and the unfair award of contracts, he was retaliated against by being let go after working 20 years on the job.

He said a public advocate would be a resource for those who want to report wrong doing.  

"We went through the whistle-blower program," Kerr said. "We went through the ethics commission (and) nothing happened."

Said Chiu: "The idea that we would have another politician with his own agenda with a seven-figure budget to bring potentially politically motivated investigations against everyday San Franciscans (is like a) small business with unlimited subpoena power (that) just doesn't make sense."

By KTVU reporter Amber Lee.

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