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Chadwick out, Michell in as San Diego City Hall COO

Kris Michell has been an influential player in City Hall politics before but her appointment as COO marks a major change for the role, which has generally gone to technocrats rather than political operators.

Kris Michell, former Mayor Jerry Sanders’ powerful chief of staff, was tapped to be the city’s COO. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

The city of San Diego’s Chief Operating Officer Scott Chadwick is leaving for the COO job with the city of Carlsbad and a chance to eventually be a city manager.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer immediately tapped Kris Michell to be the city’s COO. Faulconer had in October recruited Michell to be deputy COO for special projects.

Carlsbad posted the news about Chadwick on its website late Sunday.

“Not only does he bring a wealth of experience, he is committed to investing in city employees and developing their talents so we can provide the very best service to our community,” said City Manager Kevin Crawford, in the prepared statement.

Why it matters: This is a major change for San Diego. Chadwick had rapidly risen through the ranks of city management. He was focused on the day-to-day operations required of a large government entity and the cultivation of its top managers. He left politics to the mayor and the mayor’s chief of staff. Michell, on the other hand, has been the top political leader at City Hall. She was chief of staff to two mayors.

Until now, the COO role seemed reserved for someone committed to bureaucratic management and finances. Michell is more accustomed to managing a mayor’s political priorities and striking deals to make them happen.

It’s another sign that the mayor is taking a new path, even if it’s by tapping a veteran of city politics.

Background: The mayor of San Diego is the chief executive who oversees almost all its employees. Since the strong mayor form of government came to be in 2006, the COO has managed daily operations while mayors and chiefs of staff have managed the politics and vision for the agency. Chadwick was head of human resources for former Mayor Jerry Sanders and then became interim COO under Mayor Bob Filner.

Filner never filled the position. Former County Chief Administration Officer Walt Ekard stepped in as city COO to help and mentor Chadwick. When Filner finally resigned, City Council President Todd Gloria, who had assumed the role of interim mayor, made Chadwick permanent COO.

What could happen now: The COO job is one of the few in city management that requires approval of the City Council. Michell has earned plaudits for her work on homelessness when she ran the San Diego Downtown Partnership. She was also part of the deal-making effort to put a measure on the November ballot to raise hotel taxes and pay for an expansion of the Convention Center and homeless services.

However, a long career at the top of politics in a major city can leave anyone with baggage and some City Council members or labor groups may rally against her approval.

Michell was chief of staff to former Mayor Jerry Sanders and before that to former Mayor Susan Golding, both Republicans. She has long been close to the heart of power in city politics. And she works closely with the current chief of staff to Mayor Faulconer, Aimee Faucett.

More: I asked Chadwick if he’d share his resignation letter. He did. “While I would love to spend the rest of my career as Chief Operating Officer, I have been presented with an opportunity that comes along once in a lifetime,” he wrote to Faulconer.

He offered Feb. 21 as his last day but it may come much sooner.

 

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