What would you call a country in which the government never does what its elected officials tell it to? Where whatever the people want, the gears of bureaucracy keep turning in the same direction without pause? A dictatorship? An oligarchy? Wal-Mart?
Here in San Francisco, we call it "democracy."
A civil grand jury report out this month bearing the simple title "Accountability in San Francisco Government" explained why all that voting we do is about as useful as all that protesting we do: Whatever decisions get made, no one is held accountable for following through on them.
That means that even in the unlikely event your elected officials do what you tell them to, the people they pay to carry it through won't. Why not? Maybe they want a long weekend. Or maybe they just don't like you.
There are numerous examples, from branch libraries that still haven't been renovated to meetings that were never held to oversight of major purchases that were never, in fact, overseen. But what's most ironic is that this isn't the first time this problem has been identified — and the reason it wasn't solved is that no one was held accountable for holding others accountable.
In 2005, Mayor Newsom announced an "Accountability Index" that would keep track of the administration's policy pledges and make sure they were being followed through. For every major project since then, an "index" has been drawn up showing what's been done and what has yet to be done.
The problem? According to the civil grand jury, the accountability indexes fail to disclose large portions of projects as yet unfinished (such as the library branches that should have opened five years ago) or document tens of millions of dollars in cost overruns. Somehow nobody bothered to fact-check them.
Will this new report turn San Francisco around? It does give recommendations for improved accountability, but as the mayor's office shows, we've been through this before. At the end of the day, nobody will be fired for not doing his or her job.
Because even united, the people can be ignored.