On Friday, Sept. 13th, Interim Mayor Todd Gloria offered some insights and critiques of former Mayor Bob Filner’s administration. He provided lessons for what is needed in an effective mayor along with some of the curative steps he has taken to heal the wounds left in the aftermath of the Filner administration.
During his animated, dynamic and humorous talk Gloria pointed out the fact that he currently holds three titles: President of the City Council, Interim Mayor and councilman. He laughed and pointedly observed: “But you can just call me ‘Mayor.’”
Mayor Gloria is an excellent speaker: clear, concise and structured. It was apparent that he wanted the audience to understand how utterly dysfunctional the Filner administration had been over the previous nine months, along with the steps Gloria was taking to clean up the Aegean Stables left behind.
Adopting less dramatic techniques than Hercules, he began by simply empowering the professionals working in the city to make decisions within their bailiwick, a process which had ground to a halt under Filner. Frankly, I was a little shocked to learn the real inside story of how operations had become so topsy-turvy.
For example, Filner injected himself into deciding what lights should be in the new library; when that happens, things are way off kilter. After all, the city is not a personal playground for arbitrary intervention and decision-making. San Diego is a structured, multi-billion dollar corporate operation with vast responsibilities and a well-trained staff of thousands who are charged with carrying out the laws, including the Municipal Code. The last thing San Diego needs is a prancing pseudo-monarch.
Among the astonishing revelations is the fact that Filner micromanaged everything to a standstill and could not delegate appropriately or effectively. He failed to make decisions and was oddly preoccupied with ancillary matters utterly unrelated to effectively administering the city. Moreover, his administration merely ignored public record requests, a circumstance which ironically defeated any claim to “open government” by Filner. Important appointments to key positions were left unfulfilled, resulting in considerable harm and cost to the city.
While the charges against Filner of sexual harassment are important, the massive stranglehold of indecision and dithering has not been given nearly enough attention for its role in motivating an insurrection. The combination better explains why so many vociferously, rapidly and broadly rose up against Filner when the sexual harassment charges emerged as an opportunity to change leadership.
As Council President, Gloria saw firsthand the internal administrative catastrophe created by a combination of decapitated subordinate leadership resulting in low morale and important lost opportunities.
From Filner’s example of a powerful yet feckless central administrator we are reminded that the ability to lead and delegate are especially critical factors for any mayor functioning in the “strong mayor” context.
Fortunately, Mayor Gloria is both energetic and thoughtful enough to undertake and rapidly reverse these failings. He has made delegation a central focus, moved quickly to respond to backlogged public record requests, brought on additional highly qualified individuals to assist him, and jump-started otherwise languishing processes across the city. Thus far San Diego is fortunate to have his services, undistracted as they are by any effort to mount a mayoral campaign. Ironically, he makes a good mayor!
So, who in the now burgeoning cast of characters vying for the responsibility of becoming the mayor of San Diego is skilled at delegating responsibility to subordinates?
Let’s dispense with the obvious failures in this regard: Mike Aguirre. Recall the tyrannical, overbearing, capricious, obsessive, nonsensical, deluded and absurd conduct of Aguirre’s administration of the city attorney’s office? Remember the mountainous stacks of paper on his desk and elsewhere sitting unaddressed and ignored? Remember the keen focus on the squirrels in Balboa Park? As an administrator, Aguirre was a laughing-stock. Aguirre was endorsed by Filner when he ran for city attorney and it now appears they share many similar characteristics. Imagine the harm such a style could heap upon the citizens of San Diego.
As for the other candidates, it is critical for the public to better understand what skills as both administrator and delegator they bring or could perform. Given the remarkable power for good or ill such abilities hold, it is worth understanding how each candidate will foster and nurture a properly functioning City Hall.
As a test of their openness, it might be appropriate for each candidate to voluntarily offer up their qualifications in this regard, assuming they have the courage to be honest and forthright -- and relegating such a response to your campaign manager doesn’t count!
Coffey is an attorney based in San Diego. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.