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Tuesday, June 12, 2007 | Ronne Froman, the former Navy admiral who was tapped to be Mayor Jerry Sanders’ second in charge from the early days of his campaign, is leaving the Mayor’s Office at the end of the month.

Sanders confirmed Monday afternoon that his longtime friend and colleague would be departing City Hall. He said she had always planned to leave after two years, though her departure comes 18 months after the beginning of Sanders’ tenure. The mayor said his chief operating officer informed him a couple of months ago that she would be leaving upon the conclusion of this year’s budget.

There have also been enduring reports of friction between Froman and the other side of the mayor’s leadership team, Kris Michell, legislative affairs director, and Fred Sainz, communications director.

Sanders said he didn’t think Froman’s departure had anything to do with internal issues. “She told me all along: two years,” the mayor said.

Froman essentially served as Sanders’ running mate in the 2005 special election, a play that allowed the now-mayor to cash in on the former Navy admiral’s considerable political capital among the region’s business and political elite. Upon Sanders’ election, Froman oversaw his transition team and has since served as his second in charge as chief operating officer.

In that role, Froman has been central to the effort to fix City Hall’s vast financial woes through a streamlining push known as business process reengineering. The process has been central to Sanders’ claim that he can begin paying down the city’s many long-term liabilities without axing city services such as parks and libraries in the 2008 budget.

Froman’s last day will be June 29, the final business day before the 2008 budget — which includes about 300 layoffs — goes into effect.

“Doing this kind of change at any organization is kind of hard. It’s been a heck of a couple of years,” Froman said in an interview. “I knew this was going to be hard. I knew that when I started. I think it’s time for a break.”

The mayor said Froman has laid the foundation for his financial recovery efforts. “She’s been a tremendous partner for these last two years. Ronne could’ve stayed as long as she wanted,” he said.

Sanders knew Froman from his time as police chief, when Froman served as San Diego’s “Navy mayor.” She also served as the chief executive officer for the local chapter of the American Red Cross when Sanders served as chairman of the board. Between those stints, Froman also served as chief of business operations for the San Diego Unified School District. With that background, Froman earned the reputation as strong manager and the respect of the region’s powerbrokers.

But she was virtually invisible in the public eye under Sanders. Despite the fact that her name was dropped regularly at campaign events, Froman rarely did media interviews and stayed behind the scenes.

“I had no aspirations of political life and now that I’ve seen it up close, I have even less aspirations of political life,” she said.

By all appearances, Froman remained resolutely apolitical in an office known for its sharp-elbowed politics. She instead focused heavily on the management of the office.

Froman dismissed the frequent reports that she and Michell were at odds. “There’s been tension with a lot of people. Everybody’s worked very, very hard. Kris and I have been fighting the war together,” she said. “We’re sisters.”

The Mayor’s Office planned to make the announcement later this week, but made it public Monday after inquiries from voiceofsandiego.org.

Sanders and Froman said that they spoke following former Mayor Dick Murphy’s resignation in April 2005 and asked each other: Which one of us is going to run for mayor? They decided on Sanders, but Froman figured largely in the 2005 campaign.

She officially began her tenure at City Hall as city manager in November 2005 upon Sanders’ election. In January 2006, the city transitioned to a new form of government that eliminated the city manager’s role and pushed its duties to the Mayor’s Office. She became the chief operating officer when Sanders restructured the city bureaucracy under the new strong-mayor form of government.

Richard Ledford, who served as Mayor Susan Golding’s chief of staff, said two years at City Hall can seem like several years.

“Literally, two years is a long time. There’s kind of a ‘dog years’ that go with working at that level,” he said. “I don’t think that anyone thought she would be around for three or four years.”

Others saw politics in the resignation. “She’s not used to party cadres,” said Steve Erie, political science professor at the University of California, San Diego. “And unfortunately, they are the ones who are running the Mayor’s Office.”

He said a change like this would have to be done now — far enough away to not do damage to the 2008 election campaign. “If you’ve got to lighten the ship, now’s the time to do it. In fact, it may be the first of many,” Erie said.

Chief Financial Officer Jay Goldstone has been named the interim chief operating officer. Froman said she advised Sanders to allow Goldstone to take over both positions, saying the proper people had been put in place to continue without hiring a new person.

For now, she said she will take some time off. Froman said she is considering offers and might begin her own consultancy for coaching and managing.

And she said moving frequently is part of her makeup.

“I’d been in the military for 31 years. In the military, people transfer every two, three years. It’s just part of your life. I never planned to stay here, and I’ve said that again and again and again,” she said.

Please contact Andrew Donohue directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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