Thursday, July 28, 2005 | Let’s hope the new mayor of San Diego doesn’t have to make a single tough decision in his or her tenure. There was a lot of talk during the campaign about that. Everybody says they are actually looking forward to “making the tough decisions.”

I assume those would be decisions that had they been made in a timely fashion by the previous administration could have prevented the city government’s present nosedive.

It would have been a tough decision, therefore, to reject a plan brought forth by a city official to underfund the city’s pension system. The city would certainly have been spared a load of grief if that tough decision had been made.

Pension board members would have had a tough decision when they voted on a deal that would boost their personal pension benefits. It would have been tough, but they would have voted against, and today all those nasty indictments would not exist. Council members would have had a tough decision in declining campaign contribution and cash arrangements with adult entertainment interests that might eventually be construed as conspiring to change city laws about touching nude lady dancers in strip clubs. Now there is a tough decision if I ever saw one.

But that decision was not made, and for that, San Diegans should be grateful and look forward to the promised new era of tough decision-makers in San Diego’s municipal leadership who will know what to do when offered bribes or special-interest deals. They will happily make those tough decisions.

And where, then, can the city go but up?

Well, the city at least will be tough enough to keep itself out of bankruptcy and off Jay Leno.

But I fear it will still be a nervous time. Being tough takes vigilance, and energy. Fatigue can set in, making tough decision after tough decision that turn away greedsters and send couriers slouching back in disappointment to Las Vegas. There’s a psychology factor, too: Bad guys see tough decision-makers as a challenge. And the easy decision makers? Bad guys won’t waste their time.

I would rather have the new mayor make easy decisions and, showing everyone else at City Hall how it is done, make it easy for them to make easy decisions, too.

I have actually seen it done. It takes leadership, and possession of values and principles. State these values and principles in a page or two of rules and policy on your first day at the office and make sure everyone in the building has a copy by the end of the day.

Many of the rules will not be rules of governing, or Robert’s Rules, but rules of living. Don’t cheat. Be committed. To do good things, do things good. Be stronger than your strongest weakness.

Many other rules and all of the policy will describe the way things will happen while you are in charge.

Then start making decisions based not on toughness, but on policy. Pretty soon even the tough decisions will seem easy. And then easy decisions made the same way will become routine. Imagine that: working for San Diego city government, where all the decisions are easy. Nobody should have to be tough, in the interest of a city and its citizens worth making things easy for.

Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at

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