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Monday, November 14, 2005 | Former Red Cross CEO Ronne Froman – who has been tapped to lead the city’s day-to-day operations by Mayor-elect Jerry Sanders – made one thing clear in an interview the other day.

“Jerry is the boss,” Froman said.

Well, in less than a month he will be anyway.

But he will be a boss unlike any other City Hall has seen in more than 70 years. Not because of any special qualities he has or doesn’t have. Surely he has some – like the big smile he wears these days. It’s a genuine product of a genuine joy.

Careful Jerry, like your mother must have told you: You keep doing it and your face will stay like that. God forbid we let you spread any smiling through City Hall these days.

Back to the point. Sanders is going to be a different boss than any other in modern San Diego because he will, indeed, be the boss. The city will transition to the new “strong-mayor” form of government shortly after he takes office.

And a City Hall now accustomed to fireworks and turmoil won’t necessarily put those behind it but it will at least experience a whole new type of them.

Froman made an excellent point in her discussion with Voice of San Diego: Her new boss Sanders will be in charge of almost all of the city’s staff – with the notable exception of the city attorneys and City Council employees.

We’ve been accustomed to something far different. Think about it.

When we used to hear from people in, say, the wastewater department or the risk-management department, there always remained the possibility that those people might actually disagree with the city’s mayor. After all, for more than 70 years, city employees have not had much more allegiance to the city’s mayor than they did to the City Council.

The real boss was the city manager, whose competence a City Council member never wanted to question unless he or she knew that a few colleagues would back them up.

In fact, the mayor was really just another vote on the City Council, though he had the power to set the agenda and speak from a taller soapbox.

But only a few short weeks after taking office, Sanders will transition from one of those types of mayors to the type who actually runs the city government. The new “strong-mayor” form of governance will officially become the city’s way of doing business Jan. 3.

It’s probably fair to say that when you hear an employee speak about city government in the future, he or she will not be disagreeing with the mayor. The City Council and city attorney certainly will, but the City Council doesn’t exactly have a unified voice – they disagree enough to dilute many major questions about the mayor’s policy.

And the city attorney? Well, he certainly has been known to dilute his message with a lot of (how should we put it?) talking.

This is not to imply in any way that past city managers were strong voices of opposition to the mayor. On the contrary, actually, they did not want a mayor working to unite the City Council against them.

But they at least theoretically could disagree with the mayor. And vice versa. If the mayor found himself facing uncomfortable questions about the way the city was operating, or not operating, he could always blame it on the City Manager to some degree.

All that comes to an end in January. One can now assume – and be assured that reporters will – that the city staff under the mayor’s supervision are acting and speaking on behalf of Mayor Sanders. In other words, Sanders will be, or will become, acutely aware that the expressions and actions of thousands of city employees will have direct political consequences on him.

Only three employees managed by the new mayor – the city’s fire chief, police chief and auditor – will have the chance to ultimately appeal to the City Council if they upset him.

The rest now definitely have a new boss.

Maybe they should take his first cue and start smiling.

Please contact Scott Lewis directly at

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