Friday, November 11, 2005 | The most readily available criticism of Ronne Froman – the woman Mayor-elect Jerry Sanders has tapped as his second-in-command – is that she parachutes into troubled organizations and leaves perhaps too quickly after implementing drastic changes.
It’s a criticism she even levels at herself to some extent.
“I’ve had a conversation with myself and said: ‘At some point I’m going to have to take an organization that needs just maintaining and growing and just do that’,” Froman said. “That would be much easier than moving around.”
Her new position as chief operating officer of a tumultuous City Hall will be Froman’s third since 2001 when she retired as a rear admiral in the Navy. While Froman has seen her role in civilian life much as it was in the Navy – a short assignment here, a short assignment there – a local critic wonders why Froman would want to leave a job soon unless she hadn’t succeeded.
The answer, at least this time around, is that Froman didn’t want to leave her job as CEO of the American Red Cross of San Diego-Imperial Counties, which she gave up just Wednesday in order to officially join Sanders’ team.
She said goodbye to the staff of the Red Cross Thursday morning.
“It was a very emotional morning,” Froman said. “I didn’t want to say goodbye to them, we fought the war together.”
Sanders transition staff made Froman available to most media Thursday for the first time in months after facing criticism for selectively using her credentials to gain support in the campaign yet keeping her away from the reporters.
Sanders and his campaign aides had said that Froman was not allowed to speak to the media about the campaign because of her commitments to the Red Cross, yet that same commitment had not kept her from appearing briefly at a press conference in August and meeting with groups of campaign donors and others during the race.
Asked Thursday about what her relationship with the public and reporters would be in the future, Froman said she didn’t know.
While the mayor and city manager have both been relatively accessible to the press in the recent past, Froman said that model won’t necessarily apply in the future. The city is preparing for a transition to a so-called strong-mayor form of government in which the mayor no longer votes with the City Council but controls city staff like a CEO.
“People used to refer to an office of the mayor and an office of the city manager and so on. Well, now, the whole organization is the office of the mayor,” Froman said.
Froman said she has no special talent handling development issues, or high finance or any of the other specific issues the city’s most powerful politician will have to handle. But she is good at helping fix a troubled organization, she said.
“What I do know is how to hire and build a team of people who are experts in all the necessary fields. I was sent in to take over organizations that needed help,” Froman said, listing, among others, her experience helping to close down the Charleston Naval Complex when she was the commanding officer of the base in South Carolina. And she helped guide the Red Cross from a disgraced organization that had no way to make payroll to a more stable entity.
“That’s what I do,” Froman said.
But Fran Zimmerman, a former member of the board of education at the San Diego Unified School District, said Froman did not help stabilize that organization during her one-and-half-year stint with the district.
“I have little admiration for her tenure at the school district. I think she was in over her head. She left precipitously and without fanfare,” Zimmerman said. “She has ingratiated herself with people who are powerful and recognize in her a person who will do their bidding.”
Richard Ledford, the current board chairman of the local Red Cross, said that actually, Froman ingratiated herself in a little more sincere way to him.
“Froman brought the Red Cross back from the cusp of bankruptcy,” Ledford said. “When she took over, we were barely making it from payroll to payroll and the image of the local Red Cross was so bad that people would not write checks to us.”
That has now changed, he said.
Now Froman will be integrally involved in helping to keep a much larger organization, the city of San Diego, from going bankrupt.
“We’ll do everything we can to not let that happen,” Froman said.
Please contact Scott Lewis directly at