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Friday, May 8, 2009

Civil Grand Jury Finds 'Lack of Leadership' From Mayor Newsom, Who Governs Via Press Release. Also: Sky Is Blue And Sea Is Green.

Posted By on Fri, May 8, 2009 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge AUDREY FUKUMAN
  • Audrey Fukuman
Fortunately for Gavin Newsom, no one pays attention to Civil Grand Jury reports.

Unfortunately for the people of San Francisco, according to the Civil Grand Jury, Newsom isn't paying attention to following through on his grand plans, making it damn near impossible to tell if San Francisco is living up to its "Performance Measurement" goals -- in other words, it's exceedingly difficult to tell if we're spending our billions wisely. The Grand Jury faults Newsom and his department heads for a "lack of leadership," and opened its 19-page salvo by pleading that the mayor govern "by the numbers rather than just publicizing the ones favorable to him."

In typical San Francisco -- and, one could argue, Newsom -- fashion, the Jury found the city has devised many excitingly named systems of measuring things. And we ignore them and do whatever it is we do.

The Jury notes Newsom and his staff referring to an "Accountability Matrix" "Accountability Index," and, for good measure, an "Accountability Report." This matrix-index-report covers 380 policy items spread over nine policy areas -- which is odd, because last year, the mayor established "10 Strategic Pillars." The nine policy areas of the matrix-index-report and the 10 Strategic Pillars do not jibe and "as of February 2009 there was no link between the two documents." 

Similarly, every department is required to draw up an "Efficiency Plan" each year -- and they do. However, the Jury found that "little attention was paid to the Plans, either inside or outside the department." What's more, nearly 75 percent of city managers were paid a bonus for meeting their "Performance Planning and Appraisal" goals last year. "The remaining managers were not paid bonuses but the City could not explain why."

Oh, the irony. How to measure accountability in a city where no one is ever held accountable? For goodness sake, the Grand Jury itself released a bombshell about this last year!

Oh, but there's more:

  • The Jury cites author Robert Behn's article "The Seven Big Errors of Performance Stat," which notes how approaching these numbers incorrectly can lead to an "utterly simplistic, noticeably ineffective, and thus purely symbolic sham." Some of Behn's criteria are "no clear purpose," "The meetings are held irregularly," and "no follow-up." Glancing at the dubious list, the jury feels San Francisco is batting 6.5-for-7."To have missed six-and-a-half times out of seven is an interesting Performance Measurement matrix in itself," it snidely reports.
  • Important measures are ommitted from the 1,000 "metrics" the city tracks; for example, there is not one metric regarding San Francisco's crippling, $100 million overtime problem. Of the metrics we do track, many are tracked inefficiently.
  • A full 77 percent of city workers tasked with filling out Performance Management reports told the Jury they got their data from colleagues; only 4 percent were given the data by managers and department heads -- meaning city higher-ups are falling down on the job when it comes to informing subordinates how, exactly, they will be judged for competence.
  • "The Jury finds there is no regular communication between Departments or between Departments and the Mayor on city goals, targets, and achievements as part of a formal Performance Management process..."
  • "The practice of changing targets in mid-year to match performance to date does not encourage people to strive hard to meet their goals." Wow. That's an amazing concept -- I wanted to hit 40 home runs this year, but, at the All-Star Break, I'm at 10. Guess I'll shoot for 20. But, getting back to city matters, it doesn't seem to be a big deal how many home runs you hit: "The Jury finds the Mayor and most Department heads are not paying attention to the numbers."
I'd report on the Jury's recommendations -- complete with flow charts! -- but it's clear the mayor (and probably no one else with any influence) doesn't care to hear them. (You can read them here).

Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard told the Chronicle that "the grand jury doesn't know what it's talking about," noting Newsom keeps a thorough record of all his pledges in his "accountability index" each year (indicating he didn't read the grand jury report, which is pretty darn familiar with the matrix-index-report). Incidentally, it warrants mentioning that, in the latest mayoral accountability index -- just to pick one example -- the entry "Rebuild Laguna Honda Hospital" is listed as "In Progress." There's no mention of the fact that gargantuan cost overruns led to the project cutting one-third of the proposed bed space -- yet the endeavor has still gone several hundred million dollars over budget. Actually, Ballard probably didn't read this 2008 Grand Jury report either -- which specifically stated the mayor's accountability index is worthless.

Ballard also told the Chronicle that members of the Grand Jury should sit through Newsom's 7.5 hour YouTube address. In other words, "Go fuck yourselves." 

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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