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Retired San Diego County Administrator Walt Ekard, who led county workers for about 13 years, has agreed to serve as the city’s interim chief operating officer. He previously served as a consultant to Mayor Bob Filner, who has since faced multiple calls for his resignation.
I talked with Ekard ahead of a Monday press conference where more serious allegations against Filner were aired. Ekard told me why he agreed to take on the gig and what he sees as key challenges going forward.
Why he took the job: Ekard said the mayor repeatedly tried to persuade him to serve as the city’s chief operating officer before he took office in December.
And Ekard repeatedly refused.
He said he finally agreed to take the temporary gig to ensure city business continues despite the recent turmoil.
“My focus is on making sure in the midst of whatever else is going that the city of San Diego is open for business,” he said.
Three things Ekard demanded before taking the job:
• Authority to do his job: Since he took office, Filner has signed off on nearly every contract and city decision. As a result, city business has slowed, previously agreed-upon deals have been upended and City Council members and reporters have complained about a lack of information flow from the mayor’s office.
That’s changing now, Ekard said.
“He has agreed that that authority is now mine, so I do not anticipate that being a problem from here on out,” he said.
• No more bad behavior toward staffers: Ekard is adamant that staffers won’t be subjected to aggressive behavior.
“The expectation that I have in taking this job is the propensity the mayor has to be very difficult to work for and in terms of that, his interaction with employees will cease, I basically made it clear that the temper and other stuff stops,” Ekard said.
• This is just a temporary gig: Ekard said he isn’t interested in holding on to this post for long.
“I am interim in the sense that I’m retired and I wasn’t looking for a full-time job,” Ekard said. “I’m going to be here for
I don’t know what the time frame will be. It will be as long as I am added value and moving the city forward.”
Key challenges: Ekard said he’s already identified a couple essential tasks.
One is ensuring retirements don’t create an information vacuum.
The city is poised to see a number of retirements among department directors in coming years but hasn’t done a great job planning for them.
Ekard said he wants to ensure lower-level department staffers have the experience and knowledge necessary to succeed their bosses.
Another challenge will be improving the city’s internal and external communications.
The city hasn’t done a good job responding to requests from the media or simply getting information to city staffers in recent months, Ekard said.
Ekard’s take on the allegations against the mayor: “I’m not here to defend the mayor. He can do that himself. I’m here to run the city of San Diego as best we can.”