Mayor Gavin Newsom made bureaucratic reform in San Francisco city government a signature element of his 2003 election campaign and first term in office, so it should come as no surprise to anyone at City Hall that he would ask all senior staff, city department heads and commissioners to tender their resignations today.
The City’s chief executive was within his rights to make the bold request and sends the welcome message that his expected re-election in November over token opposition doesn’t necessarily translate into business as usual come January.
Newsom called on the voluntary submission of resignations from the city officials at a staff meeting Monday in the wake of meetings with 14 of The City’s 53 department heads last week to discuss their futures. The mayor set the stage for a potential shake-up of high-ranking officials once his first term ends Jan. 7 of this year, when he unveiled his civil service reform plan. It is not unreasonable for the mayor to ask department heads, commissioners and senior staff to live up to similar standards — if not more stringent ones — he set forcivil servants and if they don’t, he or a successor should be able to replace them.
In calling for the resignations, the mayor was careful not to target any specific department chiefs, commissioners or staff members, but he wanted to avail himself of the opportunity to effect selective changes or even a clean sweep of officials who, in some cases, were holdovers from the Willie Brown administration. Much as prime ministers and presidents routinely shuffle their cabinets — or replace them wholesale when government control changes — a mayor has the right to pick key officials who will help him carry out his agenda.
Newsom made it clear that, if he is re-elected, government responsiveness to the needs of San Franciscans will be a central theme of a second term. That would imply the need for nimbleness and creativity in government, something that is hardly served by a calcified bureaucratic status quo.
Supervisor Chris Daly, the mayor’s leading foe at City Hall, called on the city officials affected by Newsom’s resignation request to defy their supervisor — the mayor — a quixotic stand that runs counter to the progressive ideals of reform and government that is sensitive to its citizens. The supervisor’s call for insubordination was not helpful and he and other members of the Board of Supervisors should instead stick to their important oversight role.
Newsom’s first term has already seen the departure of several department heads, commissioners and key staffers, and with unmet goals outstanding at several departments, there remains much hard work to be done at City Hall. Should he deem it necessary in January, the mayor and, more importantly, the people of San Francisco, deserve competent officials who can get the job done.