Everybody out

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has called on the heads of all city departments to submit letters of resignation. Anyone Newsom has appointed to a commission or board is expected to do turn in a resignation as well.

This is such a weird move for Newsom, and his explanation that it’s supposed to foster better dialog makes it sound like one of the less stellar ideas that have emerged from the Board of Supervisors. Question Time, anyone?

If someone is doing a bad job, it’s easy enough to compile data to prove it, and then fire them with the backup of evidence. To me, that’s better leadership than devising some weird maneuver to get rid of people without soiling your tie.

In some defense of the mayor’s idea, without a doubt there are some department heads and commissioners who in my opinion not only are not helping the city but who are actively harming the efficient delivery of services and the reputation of San Francisco government, and they need to go. On the other hand, others are really trying, but the clinging muck of bureaucracy is slowing every step they try to take toward improving their departments. The majority of department heads and commissioners, of course, are cruising along, not doing noticably better or worse than anyone else.

It’s that middle majority that is really getting the stinky end of the stick here. Anyone who has ever worked somewhere when the boss or some management consultant has announced that everyone will have to reapply to retain their own jobs can relate to how demoralizing to most people such an announcement can be. It gives some people ulcers, it prompts good team members to jump ship and it never, ever succeeds in clearing out all the deadwood. On the other hand, it is kind of amusing to watch how fast some people jump to squeal about what a great idea it is and how brilliant the boss is for suggesting it.

What is most troubling about this move, though, is that it reinforces the perception that the leaders of city departments are evaluated on the basis of political considerations instead of on the measurable performance of their duties. Many people will see this as nothing but a cheap trick to make Newsom appear to be doing something, and the last thing we need is more reasons for people to be so disgusted with their political systems that they just stop paying attention.


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