It may seem like years ago, but try to remember Mayor Bob Filner’s spat with hotel owners.
The dilemma he provoked with them was about a contract. The mayor simply refused to sign it — an operating agreement with the tourism marketing district. That kept millions of dollars away from tourism marketing.
It was clear that, even if the City Council had approved a deal, the mayor was reviewing every document they asked him to sign to see what more he could get out of it for the city.
That power has now gone to Walt Ekard, the former chief administrative officer of San Diego County, who agreed to become the city’s chief operating officer. Ekard said the numerous complaints of bottlenecks in the micromanaging mayor’s office would be history.
“He has agreed that that authority is now mine, so I do not anticipate that being a problem from here on out,” Ekard told Lisa Halverstadt.
The Los Angeles Times pulled on that thread as well. Here’s how reporter Tony Perry described Ekard’s role: “Ekard will take over many of the powers that Filner wielded: approving city contracts, giving orders to employees, selecting top management officials.”
The move was couched as a way to calm constituents worried about city services as allegations against the mayor intensified and calls for his resignation piled up. Late Monday, U.S. Rep. Scott Peters added his voice to those demands, saying he had left Filner a voicemail calling for his resignation.
The mayor did not call him back.
It may not be enough for elected officials but any revolution needs the elite to cave in. Ekard’s appointment, and specifically the announcement that he had new powers, had a targeted audience: the business community.
Kris Michell, CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, took the announcement, forwarded it and implored her board members to support Ekard.
“It would be great to send Walt an email thanking him for agreeing to take on these responsibilities and for making sure our city is operating efficiently,” she wrote in an email.
Support for Ekard is de facto support for Filner. Political consultant Tom Shepard is trying to engineer an incredible political comeback for Filner. Ekard is key to that. If the business community likes how things run with Ekard, well, maybe there’s no need to change mayors. Maybe things will even be better.
It seemed to be working. Far from calling for the mayor to resign as a super-majority of the City Council and others have done, the business community was rallying support for Ekard.
“Walt Ekard as interim COO of San Diego best news all week- Manpower welcomes him to the roles of temp staffing!” tweeted Phil Blair, president of Manpower San Diego.
Ekard also emphasized to Halverstadt the temporary nature of the arrangement.
“I’m going to be here for I don’t know what the time frame will be. It will be as long as I am added value and moving the city forward,” Ekard said.
Filner told KUSI that Ekard would stay as long as we need him.
“Walt Ekard, who governed the county for 14 years, one of the best local governments in America, is in charge. They’re going to be insulated from these other processes,” Filner said. “He doesn’t see himself as a caretaker, but to make San Diego better.”
What’s ironic is that Filner offered Ekard the role of chief operating officer months ago, after the election. Ekard turned him down. Now, in the midst of a nauseating political crisis in which Donna Frye has said that the mayor is “tragically unsafe” for women and running a humiliating work environment, Ekard decided to take the job.
“Before the crisis Walt would’ve had to do it Bob’s way. I think that’s no longer the case. Operationally Bob was a disaster,” Brant Will, a deputy city attorney, wrote on Twitter.
Yes, everything has changed. Ekard, no doubt, relishes the challenge. He’s well known as a strong manager and he couldn’t possibly find a more chaotic environment to prove his theories about municipal management.
Welcome to the new order: Filner can have his little office. The Responsible People are taking over.
I remember when Shepard took Filner on as a client. His own candidate, Nathan Fletcher, had failed to advance out of the primary in the mayoral race.
Filner had a good chance of winning. Shepard saw this and knew the business community would need an entry to him. He agreed to help guide Filner. Soon you saw Filner, the candidate, soften some of his edges. Filner’s opposition to things like the Convention Center expansion eased.
If the business community were an island far removed from Filner, Shepard was building a bridge. Now that bridge is helping keep Filner connected to a world ready to cut him loose. The power dynamic has shifted.
Shepard and Ekard are constructing a rationale for keeping Filner in charge.
The scary thing is that some of Filner’s closest allies say he is a danger to women. It’s hard to imagine a leader in a position like this not at least put on leave as it is determined whether he indeed is a danger. The stakes are too high, the liability too great.
No matter your position on what’s happening, the question to me is simple: Would you be comfortable as a woman alone in his company? The mayor first responded to the allegations by admitting he did not fully respect women until last week.
Perhaps Ekard, Shepard and Tony Buckles, Filner’s longtime chief of staff in D.C., who has been brought in, won’t let the mayor be alone with women who work for or with the city.
Maybe that’s another deal Filner made with Ekard and friends.
He must have done something. Ekard is going to keep this ship steady so Filner can keep his job. I have to think Ekard has done something to assure himself his titular boss won’t hurt anyone else.
He’s too good of a manager not to think of that. Right?