Wednesday, April 19, 2006
San Diego's bad luck is turning. A serious nucleus of San Diegans is forming to help rebuild city government, and to restore this uneasy city's reputation. At a City Hall disgraced by corruption, a straight-arrow ex-cop is mayor and, as his back-up, stands a normally calm lady admiral who can turn tough as nails.
That admiral, Ronne Froman, has a record. She was brought in to restore the reputation of management, both at San Diego city schools, and at the Red Cross. If the city of San Diego had advertised across the nation for someone with experience in sweeping out a floundering and corrupt management, we could have done no better than Ronne.
She was born in an Ohio family accustomed to hard work. She joined the Navy and became an admiral at the Pentagon. Then she came to San Diego as commanding officer of the Eleventh Naval District. Her rehabilitation of the regional Red Cross became a national model, showing how corruption can be attacked by a community leader who puts conscience ahead of popularity. She is a quick study, and she promptly came to understand and adopt this region.
Now Ronne has become the not-so-secret weapon of Mayor Jerry Sanders. He expects her usual miracles. During one of San Diego's worst housing shortages, Ronne lobbied the Pentagon and Congress to provide $4,800 Navy family housing units.
As she strode past at City Hall the other day, she called out as casually as a housewife busy at her dusting. She said, "I'm just doing the plumbing. It has to be done from time to time.? For Ronne, plumbing means fixing public leaks and disposing of whatever's bad.
She has found that many of the scores of city offices operated independently. She believes there's too little administrative structure at city hall, and no single right way to do things. Mayor sanders and she have named five hundred people to teams studying city contracts. With each department doing them differently, she has found, taxpayers simply don't get the proper bang for their bucks.
The city is proposing a new department hire to oversee contracting and procurement - someone who is licensed Ronne warns - and with that, she estimates, the city could save $8 million next year.
"You can't fix things like this,? she says, "without each department doing its best ... Not one of them can do it all by themselves.?
Ronne begins to see excitement in the eyes of city employees, on this contracting team, for instance, and an informational technology team that is planned, and another on airports, and another on landfills.
All of this is what she calls doing the plumbing. If you do it right, she says, you can turn City Hall inside out. In a city that needs good news, she plans to bring good news.