(619) 505-7777

COMMENTARY: Leadership must put people before politics

(This commentary originally appeared HERE in UT San Diego.

The people’s business is not getting done at City Hall. Our elected leaders should be focused on repairing roads, restoring neighborhood services, rebuilding San Diego’s shrinking police department and cutting the government waste that still prevails in city bureaucracy. Unfortunately, Mayor Filner’s bizarre actions and combative personality now stand in the way of San Diegans getting the government they deserve.

This spring, Mayor Filner used police to throw a deputy city attorney out of a meeting, entangled himself in a pay-to-play scheme with a developer, forced budget cuts on neighborhood prosecutors who fight crime, used his influence to put San Diego jobs at risk by unilaterally halting construction projects, and spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on an unannounced junket to a political rally in France under the guise of “job creation.”

This isn’t about politics. I don’t have a feud with Mayor Filner, and I won’t become engaged in one. But I cannot stand by while his actions are eroding San Diego’s integrity. Bob Filner’s antics have escalated from petty distractions to government gridlock. I’m speaking out because San Diegans need to know that there are voices of reason at City Hall. I will not allow the city to slide back into the bankrupt culture of mismanagement and neglect.

We demonstrate our values through actions, not words. I’ve spent the last eight years working to reform City Hall’s culture following this type of damaging behavior from previous city leaders. From restoring the city’s credit rating to repairing its credibility, we’ve steered San Diego back from the brink. Yet with the scandals now engulfing City Hall, it feels like it’s 2005 all over again.

I’ve given Mayor Filner the benefit of the doubt, but it’s become unmistakable that the same breed of political dysfunction and disregard for common sense that ruined our city’s reputation a decade ago is back.

Dealing with the consequences of his actions has become the focus of the mayor’s attention at a time when he should be running the city. Here’s one prime example. Days ago, as Mayor Filner was preparing to defend his behavior to a room of reporters, the city’s pension board was voting down a proposal to reduce the city’s pension liability by $20 million this year alone. It was a controversial vote because not all the board members had been seated. The mayor delayed making his appointment to the board for months. As a result of the vote, the city’s pension payment is now bigger than expected, ripping a hole in the city’s budget. Library hours, larger police academies, park improvements and more will have to be cut. Even simple mayoral responsibilities are falling through the cracks and snowballing into a boondoggle for taxpayers.

Meanwhile, the tiresome feud Mayor Filner continues with the city attorney is causing real damage. The city’s latest bond offering alerted investors to the embarrassing fact that the city attorney and mayor aren’t on speaking terms. And because of Mayor Filner’s deplorable treatment of city staff, the city attorney is canceling all meetings to discuss litigation against the city. Preventing the City Council from meeting with its attorneys to protect taxpayers from costly lawsuits is not the answer. No one benefits from this, and I’m hearing from more and more San Diegans who are losing faith in city leadership. Mayor Filner’s actions were wrong, and he should apologize to the employees he has verbally attacked.

Let me be clear: I’ve witnessed the mayor’s behavior and it is completely unacceptable. He wants to control everything yet isn’t willing to take responsibility for anything. He demands respect but is unapologetically disrespectful to others.

The unheard victims in this mess are San Diegans whose interests are placed on the back burner while politicians bicker and city government grinds to a halt.

This is not the way to run a city. You have to treat people with respect. You have to inspire people to work with you, not threaten them to obey you. You have to put everything you have into making life better for San Diegans. I believe that’s the only way to move our city forward.

We can accomplish great things when we listen to each other and work together to deliver results. Our city has come too far to slip back into dysfunction. I’ll be working for positive solutions as long as I’m at City Hall. San Diego deserves leaders who fix potholes, not create sinkholes.

Faulconer, the longest-serving member of the San Diego City Council, represents San Diego’s beach and bay communities.