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SD City Hall transitions leadership

After much turmoil at San Diego city hall, a new administration must now transition from campaign rhetoric to harsh reality, as the rubber meets the road in city hall. KPBS reporter Alison St John has

After nearly two years of turmoil at San Diego city hall, the transition from the old guard to the new begins this week. City manager Lamont Ewell will clear out his desk and move out today, even before mayor-elect Jerry Sanders is sworn into office. The new administration, under Sanders and his chief operation officer Ronne Froman, must now make the change from campaign rhetoric to harsh reality, as the rubber meets the road in city hall. KPBS reporter Alison St John has more.

Winning an election takes rousing rhetoric, but fulfilling your campaign promises takes a different approach, says Professor Glen Sparrow of San Diego State University's school of public administration.

SPARROW: Campaigns are made to draw lines and to make enemies or friends, governing is trying to get the job done and you don't want to get into the campaign rhetoric when you're trying to get the job done.


Sparrow was on Sanders' so- called Reorganization and Recovery group during the campaign, helping to set goals and direction for a new administration to pull San Diego out of its fiscal crisis. After Sanders won the election that group was disbanded, and now Sparrow says, the question is how will the new mayor manifest his pledges. Sanders' campaign speeches, like this one detailing his financial plan, were not designed to build support among the city's employees.

SANDERS : In addition to the contingency of laying off 10% of general fund employees I will eliminate approx off 100 middle management to streamline the bureaucracy and increase accountability

The prospect of massive layoffs has left an already demoralized city work force on the defensive. This, according to newly appointed city council President Scott Peters, will take some turning around if Sanders wants to lead the city to a brighter future.

PETERS: 22 In my meeting with the mayor I told him the biggest issue for him right now is the low, low morale in our city . . . in our organization.

The prospect of 10% layoffs if labor unions wont come back the bargaining table has Joan Raymond, president of the blue collar workers' Local 127, shaking her head.


RAYMOND: Campaign is one thing and being able to follow through in reality is another 58: The threat of layoffs are making the workers angry, because our people are already spread so thin. I think that that is going to backfire it's not going to be possible to layoff 10% of the workforce and provide the services that the citizens have said that they want.

Raymond says workers like those who trim trees, fill potholes and clean Qualcomm stadium are already doing more and more with less and less. She says sometimes they don't even have enough trash liners or rubber gloves to do their jobs. The only city service Sanders has not promised to cut back is public safety. Police Chief Bill Lansdown was delighted at a recent meeting with the mayor elect.

CHIEF LANDSDOWN: I can tell you this, this is a marriage made in heaven for us I've never worked for a mayor who clearly understands the need for public safety.

The military background of Sanders' designated chief operations officer, former navy admiral Ronne Froman, may also predispose her to favor a strong public safety budget. But managers thoughout the rest of the organization are expecting the worst, especially after Froman issued a tough warning to city employees that anyone who expects a pay raise should go find a job somewhere else. Larry Gardner, acting deputy city manager in charge of public works and general services, says employees feel they are being unfairly blamed for the problems at city hall. He says don't forget most of the 11thousand employees are citizens too.

GARDNER: There is a very uneasy population of city employees that is here now that is struggling with many, many questions - and most of us would like to see nothing more for there to be an end to the pension crisis our hopes and our dreams are no different than the community at large we want to see this city shine

All the negativity that has centered on city hall and the insecurity about possible repercussions has persuaded some employees to resign already and not just those who are under indictment by the district attorney. Frank Belock, head of the city's Water Department has taken a job in the private sector, and Councilman Scott Peters says two out of three of the city's lead engineers have quit, key people for pending infrastructure upgrades.

PETERS The concern I have is the people who you want to stay are the ones who can get good jobs and they're the ones who are poised to leave or who have left. So it's incumbent on the mayor, cos this is going to be his city administration, the city council's not going to be in charge of it any more. He's got go find those people and get em to stay and make em part of his team.

SANDERS: Yea, I am worried that some good people will quit, but that also provides the opportunity to bring in new people who have good skills. My obligation is to the taxpayers and the citizens of San Diego and I understand people see the city is a pretty tough place right now and it's gonna be. I mean we have to make some pretty tough decisions.

Sanders says he wants letters of resignation from all city managers on his desk by January 3rd when he takes over as strong mayor. Then he would choose who stays and who goes. But events are overtaking that plan. His designated second in command, Ronne Froman, may well be appointed interim city manager by the city council this week to fill the void left by Lamont Ewell, who leaves today. She and Sanders have already interviewed people outside the city workforce for 9 top management positions.

It looks like the promised shake up at city hall is about to begin and there's little sign the tough rhetoric of the campaign is being toned down to ease the transition. Alison St John, KPBS news.