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San Diego didn’t have enough oversight to make sure it was spending money wisely. Former parks director Stacey LoMedico is now in charge of doing all the things residents say they want.
In October, the city of San Diego’s top managers made a startling admission. The city had become, “a reactive organization lacking proper oversight to ensure that taxpayer dollars were being appropriately and effectively managed,” a report to the City Council said.
To remedy that, the Council approved a dramatic City Hall reorganization that added five high-level positions. Stacey LoMedico, the head of the city’s park and recreation department and a nearly 30-year city employee, became one of them.
LoMedico’s title is assistant chief operating officer, making her No. 2 on the management side. She’ll oversee all the issues that are in vogue in city politics: parks, libraries, streets, planning and economic development.
In the spring, the city will have its fourth mayor in two years, counting current interim leader Todd Gloria. No matter who wins, LoMedico sees the refashioned management team’s role as implementing what the next mayor wants.
We talked about how the city’s new structure and LoMedico’s own experience will make that happen.
You said the structure is not going to change once the new mayor comes in. The new mayor will be in charge of this structure just like he’ll be in charge of everything else. How are you sure this structure won’t change?
In terms of the structure not changing, obviously that was voted on in October and it was a unanimous vote, including the two candidates. That’s a good indication that the structure won’t change. There may be changes in terms of goals and priorities and what they want us to focus on. That’s what we’re here to do.
You’re in charge of the economic development department. How does a government create a job?
It creates a job through various things. Capital improvements. Taking away the barriers for small businesses that want to come in. Assisting local residents who want to go through Development Services and get permits. There are a variety and multiple ways to create jobs.
What is one barrier currently that you think exists at the city?
Communication and lack of information. I think people are confused in terms of being able to access the information that they need. I hear a lot in terms of individuals who may call one department and get transferred to another department.
One of the barriers is we’ve had a lot of change. We’ve had a lot of organizational changes, we’ve had new employees, long-term employees – just because it’s an aging workforce – have left. So we need to rebuild the knowledge and make sure people know what other departments do so we’re not working in silos that we’re working together.
Ultimately does the city need more money to deal with infrastructure?
I will tell you that the city is at a point where there are a lot of things that we want to get done. Infrastructure, increased service levels and all of that costs money. As we move forward with the new mayor, that’s going to have to be something we’re going to have to work on.
Do you expect the city to have to ask for more money?
It depends on what the final decision is on what the mayor and the Council want to do.
What have you seen as far as change in opportunities and positions of leadership for women in the city over the time that you’ve been here?
I think the culture has changed. I can remember when I was newly hired I was on the financial management floor. I can remember the discussion of, there was a woman who was a director at the time, and I can remember all of us saying, “Oh my goodness, that’s amazing.” As time has gone by, I think that shock and discussion has gone away to where when women are hired for high-level positions you reflect that as to the most qualified. There’s not this, “Wow that’s great.” That shock.
To what extent did the situation with the previous administration affect that?
I don’t want to talk about the previous administration. I’ve been here for over 20 years. That was nine months. It’s a part of the 26 years, but don’t really want to talk about it.
When you first became parks director in 2007 your budget was about $84 million. It went up for a few years. Then it dropped significantly and it didn’t get back to $84 million until 2012. How did the boom and bust cycle for the park and rec budget shape what you expect your job to be now?
Empathy. Going through that gave me a better understanding of the impacts. I also think that going through that provided me a realization that I can adapt and that I can change and that I can assist others in adapting and changing and be able to lead them through a vortex that in that case was pretty horrific. I’m excited because I think in my position that’s going to be something that I’m going to be doing and leading and working with others on.
My overall experience in park and rec being a frontline department, I understand just how important every system and department is in delivering frontline services. Yes, it’s critical for the rec leader and the grounds maintenance worker and they are the first and we would be lost without them. But they need supplies, they need equipment, they need all of those things to perform their jobs. That means purchasing and auditors and controllers all have to work and are just as important to the person who’s actually delivering it even though they may never see that deliverance.
You said your ability to live through it will help others. Presumably you don’t mean substantial cuts in the budget?
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.