Scott Lewis got lots of pushback on his column arguing why San Diego should be proud of the way city leaders reacted to Mayor Bob Filner’s sexual harassment scandal.

“We live among citizens who won’t tolerate this kind of behavior from their civic leader, regardless of how inconvenient it is politically,” Lewis wrote. One of the threads that emerged in the comments was Erik Bruvold’s focus on Filner’s failure as a manager:

Hmmmm …Well not buying this one Scott. The election of 2012 stands as stark testament to a really bad development in our politics — the win-at-any-cost view by committed partisans. People wrote about the prickly Filner personality or the scandals but really very little coverage of a key and immutable fact — Bob Filner had never managed more than about a dozen people. Never. And he was now “interviewing” for a job that involves management of 10,000-plus. There was minimal coverage of this. I can’t think of an article about how Filner ran meetings, how he was viewed by former staff, whether he had groomed people in their careers, etc., etc., etc.

The partisans knew this but didn’t care. They either believed that this wasn’t important or that some policy wins outweighed the damage done as a mayor with no experience learned Management 101 on the job.

Maybe it is just me but I think rather than being proud, now is the time for some pretty sober reflection. Cities are, more than states and nations, about management. As Paul Krugman rightly notes, the federal government is an old-age insurance company with an army. Governors have a bit more management requirements but states are often so big that the bureaucracies are capable of running themselves even if you have an action movie star in the horseshoe but in cities the chief executive has to figure out ways to motivate people to do their job, find ways to spur on urban innovation, keep the lights on by following and modifying policies, etc., etc., etc. A lot of it is mundane stuff. When we changed the charter we gave those tasks to an elected official. Our press, our voters and our pundits have to catch up and understand that in addition to the personal failures of Filner, his management failure was that he didn’t grasp why you need to do things like insist on getting yourself and staff trained on sexual harassment, delegate and monitor decisions and get a strong executive hired early on to keep the lights on …

Let me close with a terrifying thought. If you have watched the mayor’s office bungle crisis communication and simply be shockingly and predictably incompetent in this respect, consider how screwed we would be – even without the harassment scandal – if this group needed to be the ones to communicate in a repeat of the 2007 firestorm? It would make the 2003 effort look like a textbook example of clear crisis management. People would likely die. That is the true tragedy of the failures of San Diego – writ large – to understand the choices being made in November 2012.

Rick Smith:

“Bob Filner had never managed more than about a dozen people. Never. And he was now “interviewing” for a job that involves management of 10,000-plus. ”

Except of course Filner had served on the San Diego school board and had served as board president. There must be some management skills there, even though it was a long time ago, when Carl DeMaio and Nathan Fletcher were wee tots.

Let’s face it, all of them lack management skills of large organizations. Are we to limit elected office only to businesspeople?


No there isn’t, and phooey on the press for not making that clearer. The school board is prohibited by state law from getting too mired into management details other than hiring and firing the superintendent. They don’t set employment policy. They don’t hire the assistants. They sit — usually once or twice a year — to provide a “review” of the superintendent’s performance. In that respect they are very much like the old City Council — overseeing the work of the city manager but not doing any other management responsibility. And over time their responsibilities have been severely eroded as more and more education policy flows up to Sacramento.

And no. Bonnie Dumanis had experience in managing a big organization. Ditto DeMaio. Fletcher managed a platoon, which, while I don’t think is enough, at least involves leadership. Bob. Nope. Nada. Zilch.

Comments have been edited for clarity and style. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us here

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Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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