Police chief escapes mayor’s scrutiny again 

For the simple reason that Mayor Gavin Newsom pulled the wrong trigger last week, San Francisco is about to embark on another needless national search for someone to run its city parks system.

Yet what Newsom really needs to find is a personnel manager, to help save him from himself.

Sports fans have come to learn through the years that some of the best trades are the ones that are never made. Newsom has now found a solution in search of a problem — never a good thing when you’re trying to show the world (and would-be donors) what governing is all about. By showing Recreation and Park General Manager Yomi Agunbiade the door last week (officially, he jumped from the ledge and was not pushed), Newsom acted on one of the longest-running rumors at City Hall. Yet the only surprise in the move was that it left everybody wondering why the mayor would choose to try and fix something that was not broken.

Say, as opposed, to something that clearly is — like the San Francisco Police Department.

While no one would contend that The City’s parks department is a smooth, well-oiled machine, it is hardly the most dysfunctional agency in San Francisco — not by a long shot. Yet, despite the department’s inability to keep The City’s playing fields playable and a scheduling system that harkens back to the Victorian era, Rec and Park has been stumbling along obligingly in the face of severe budget cuts and staffing shortages.

I’ll bet if you took a poll on the one person in city government who should be replaced not named Chris Daly, three-quarters of the people would have the same response: police Chief Heather Fong. Even those who have worked all these years on Newsom’s behalf privately say the same thing — but tell that to the mayor and you receive the same stony stare.

You could call it blind loyalty, but in truth, his inability to act on the most glaring political weakness in his administration is really more revealing of a level of stubborn insistence that shows no sign of ebbing.

I have no personal animosity toward Fong, who has been nothing less that a dutiful manager during her lengthy career with the department. But really, with the city’s homicide rate hitting record levels during her tenure, and — so far — with no plan to effectively stop it, it’s become mind-numbing that Newsom would continue to ignore an undeniable failure.

If he thinks San Francisco’s homicide rate isn’t going to be a big issue in the governor’s race, then perhaps he thinks that same-sex marriage is going to go over big in the Central Valley.

But in the case of the police chief, he’s simply not thinking. And remarkably, he’s allowed Fong to transfer some of the most capable people in the department to the equivalent of police Siberia — for allegedly undermining her leadership. But, judging by the morale in the department, the question really comes down to: What leadership?

People who work in the criminal-justice system are all but beside themselves over the current situation. And Newsom’s response?

He told me that he has no plans to make any more “big’’ department moves until after the November election. This, when just eight months ago he made a big public stink about getting investigators on desk duty out on the streets to fight homicides — going so far as to say he would demote police commanders if they didn’t follow his orders.

At the time, Newsom’s spokesman said that the mayor’s position was “enough is enough. Our current approach isn’t working and it’s time to fix it.’’

So much for the mayor’s tough talk. Perhaps he might want to go back and check the newspaper clips and see if he can rekindle that sense of outrage.

Agunbiade’s tenure had been the subject of rampant speculation for more than a year, and it was a surprise to some that Newsom didn’t make a change following his re-election. But word is the mayor was pleased with Agunbiade’s quick response following the tragic tiger mauling at the zoo last Christmas, and Newsom has been doing his best to pump up the department’s park renovations and other future projects.

Ironically, Agunbiade got the word just hours after Newsom swore in three Recreation And Park commissioners — praising them for all the good work the department is doing. Yet the campaign to remove Agunbiade, led by commission president Larry Martin and Isabel Wade, the head of the Neighborhood Parks Council — allegedly for not showing them proper deference — was too much for him to overcome.

Now Newsom has created some busy work for himself, finding a replacement. He may welcome the distraction, but it still won’t obscure the obvious.

 

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Ken Garcia

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