Friday, June 21, 2013

A mindful walk through the mayor's office

Turns out that mindful walks aren’t guaranteed to be soul-soothing.  But one thing’s for sure -- they’re invariably eye-opening.  Once you start noticing, you’ll find plenty of things you never noticed before.

You'll remember that last week I walked the walk in La Jolla.  A few days ago it was Mission Valley.  Yesterday it was downtown.  But I’m putting aside downtown and Mission Valley for the time being and inviting you to keep me company on today's mindful walk... through the mayor’s office... figuratively speaking, that is. 

Picture us on the 11th floor of City Hall.  Take a seat alongside me in the outer vestibule of the mayor’s suite.  Notice the elevators and toilets to our left.  Notice the worn carpeting and sullen lighting.  Now follow me into the inner sanctum.  

Be mindful how you walk.

Inside you’ll notice a brightly-lit chamber

filled with a warren of small offices and meeting rooms.  Time was, the offices of top management who ran the city under our previous (city manager) form of government worked cheek by jowl with the mayor and his/her modest staff.  Around eight years ago San Diego voters amended our City Charter to establish a strong mayor form of government.  Now the mayor and his staff occupy all of the 11th floor.  Demoted bureaucrats are scattered elsewhere.

I’ve been noticing -- and maybe you have, too -- that ever since Bob Filner became mayor there’s been major discontent with the 11th floor rearrangement.  Many people detest the current feng shui.  They’re highly indignant that city decision-making has become "political" in the hands of Mayor Filner.  They piously assert that politics should never intervene in the conduct of city business.

I’ve noticed – and you should, too -- that the people whining
most piteously about the loss of political neutrality in public affairs are the ones who worked their little heads off to get rid of the (nominally apolitical) city manager system and install the (political, by definition) strong mayor system.

I’ve noticed -- and surely you must, also -- that the people doing the most bellyaching are the insiders who cling to the notion that they’re entitled (in perpetuity, no less) to control the decisions made by elected city officials.  These shadow-government clubsters (downtown bigshots, hoteliers, tourism industry, bankers, hallowed law firms, sports team mafioso, U-T strongmen, redevelopment corporation hangers-on) are used to calling the shots.  They felt entitled under our city manager system.  They felt entitled under ‘strong mayor’ Jerry Sanders.  And they want to... intend to... stay entitled.

Back to our walk through the mayor’s office.  

I used to notice when Jerry Sanders was mayor that it really didn’t matter whether his 11th floor stable of advisors, speech writers, publicists, and general factotum knew how to run a city or even knew what they were supposed to be doing up there.  They didn't have to.  They could just pick up the phone and get instructions from the entitled old guard who, after running an incestuous show for generations, developed a lot of know-how and clout.  Our present mayor has chosen to disconnect the hot link between his office and the city’s old guard.

You’ve probably noticed what I’ve said on several occasions: Bob Filner’s got a lively mind and sharp wit, an ethical agenda, big-time vision, useful working connections to state and federal officials, and strong passions. 

Here's something I haven't said: even a virtuoso player like Mayor Filner can’t do it on his own.   A first-class leader needs first-class backup.  Perhaps more than any leader in our city’s history, this mayor needs a strong, dedicated, high-quality group of advisors and staff members to back up his proposals, shore up his policies, strengthen his outreach, and advance his goals.

Given San Diego’s longstanding political culture, it’s not paranoid to acknowledge that there's a paucity of forward-looking, expert, experienced, and trustworthy advisors and staff readily available to this mayor for the work at hand.  During my mindful walk through the mayor’s office I’ve noticed (you, too?) the void.  There's still much work to do and changes to make on the 11th floor of City Hall to create the team our mayor needs and the public deserves.  

There are simply no shortcuts around this one.