The mayor said he wants to decide who stays and who goes. Yet it turns out it’s not solely his decision.
By Joe Eskenazi
Well, who would have thunk it? It turns out, when you demand hundreds of city officials to turn in their resignations, unforeseen consequences may arise.
If you buy into Mayor Gavin Newsom’s rhetoric, his call for everyone’s walking papers was a “bold move” to “reinvigorate” a “fresh start.” If you see things in the more pragmatic manner top Republican strategist Dan Schnur shared with The Snitch yesterday, it was a surefire political boon, as dumping on bureaucrats never hurt a politician’s popularity.
Either way, unless Newsom opts to pull a Tony Montana finale atop the City Hall steps, tumbling lifelessly into a yet-to-be-constructed fountain, he will win the election. Yet, through his bravado, he may do so with fewer loyal department heads than he’d envisioned.
“In the coming weeks I will decide whether or not to accept your offer of resignation and will of course abide by statutory, contractual and negotiated conditions of your employer,” wrote Newsom in his original letter to department heads, managing, amazingly, to be simultaneously menacing and reassuring.
And yet, whether Newsom gives his eggshell-walking department heads the thumbs-up or thumbs-down, nearly a score of them may find themselves out on the street regardless. Because while the mayor has feigned the mantle of “the decider” in this situation, it’s a title he’s not entirely qualified to grasp.
According to a 96-page summary of the city charter penned by Deputy City Attorney Burk Delventhal in 2004 and shared with the mayor, no fewer than 16 department heads are eligible to be removed by their commissions regardless of the mayor’s input – meaning that whether or not Newsom accepts the department heads' current resignations, their commissions can.
“If it voted so, the Police Commission has the ability to terminate the chief of police,” affirmed commission member Joe Alioto Veronese. He also confirmed that Police Chief Heather Fong’s resignation letter to the mayor could be accepted by the Police Commission should its seven members see fit – and there’s nothing the mayor can do about it.
According to the City Attorney’s office, the 16 city commissions that have the ability to dump their department head or accept his/her resignation are: Airport, Aging, Environment, Status of Women, Entertainment, Fire, Health, Human Rights, Human Services, Juvenile Probation, Library, Planning, Police, Public Utilities, Recreation and Parks and the Taxi Commission.
“It appears the mayor’s office did not think about this,” said David Campos, the immediate past president of the Police Commission.
“This is just not a good way of governing,” continued Campos, a Board of Supervisors appointee to the Police Commission.
Alioto Veronese, however, saw merit in the mayor’s across-the-board calls for resignations (as a mayoral appointee, he, too, submitted a resignation -- but has been assured by Newsom that he’ll be back).
“Do I think [Newsom] sat down and thought about the impact this would have on every single commission in the city? Probably not, and I think he’s admitted so. But I think it was a good idea,” said the lawyer and former investigator in the District Attorney’s office.
“I agree that this will reinvigorate the public servants of the city. I used to be a public servant earning an actual paycheck from the city. I know how people can get complacent – not that I’ve ever been that way.”
If Newsom’s move is to be taken at face value and, as Alioto Veronese foresees, it lights a fire under the collective rear ends of city employees to serve our citizenry more enthusiastically – well, then who could object? Newsom’s message will have been well-received.
Yet if this is all just a marketing job and it ends up unnecessarily terrifying loyal city officials and needlessly costing several their livelihoods – well, that sends a message, too.