Mayor Jerry Sanders sat down with CityBeat for an hour-long interview on Monday, and although it covered lots of ground--privatization of government services, the budget, reuse of sewage water, City Attorney Mike Aguirre, infrastructure improvements--what struck us as most interesting was what Sanders, who will kick off his reelection campaign on Thursday, had to say about what he has learned while in office.
'It's by far the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, and I think I've had some pretty hard jobs,' Sanders said. 'I think being chief of police was tremendously difficult--it was a piece of cake compared to this.'
Certainly, the Sunroad debacle--the saga of the too-tall building near Montgomery Field airport that has led to widespread criticism of the mayor and the sacking of two high-level city officials--made the job more difficult than it otherwise would have been.
'Sunroad had an effect. I'm not going to say it didn't,' Sanders said. 'I did carry out a campaign promise on that, though. I promised people I was going to make mistakes, and I promised them I'd be honest when I made one and take responsibility. I made a huge one, kept the campaign promise there and took responsibility. I learned a lot of lessons from that, and if that's what's used to decide whether I should be mayor over the next four years, I don't have any problem with it.'
But he's also learned a lot about the city department that was so embroiled in that controversy. During his first campaign, Sanders talked of streamlining the Development Services Department so that developers and other applicants could get a quicker yes or no on their projects. If he knew then what he knows now, he says he would have changed his rhetoric. 'It's a cumbersome system, I think, for a reason, and I'm not sure you can streamline a lot,' he said.
'I will tell you it's much more complicated than I ever dreamed, and I'm not sure that you can just say streamlining will make it more efficient because I clearly think we've seen that it doesn't necessarily do that.'
CityBeat and others have criticized the mayor for misinforming the public on a couple of occasions, and we asked him about that. His answer just might resonate with five members of the City Council who were deemed 'negligent' by federal securities regulators for their roles in the city's employee-pension scandal.
'You don't hear me making definitive statements any more,' Sanders said. 'I have learned that there's just some things I won't know about, some things I haven't been given accurate statements about. There are some things I've been given accurate information about but I didn't understand clearly.
'If people think that I know every single thing that goes on around here, that's absolutely impossible. You cannot do that with 10,700 employees--it is not possible. I'm going to know the high-level stuff and I frequently dive down deeper into it. But even as deep as I can dive, I can only dive so deep; I rely on others to do that for me. And sometimes they do an unbelievable job and other times, you've got a lot of employees around here unhappy and they don't tell you everything.
'Let me tell you the worst feeling in the world: when you think you have all the information on an issue because you've asked for it, and they've said you got it all and you make a definitive statement, and two days later you see some e-mails that somebody found and you didn't know about them. There's nothing worse than that. And I live in dread of all these things because every time someone tells me I've got it all, I always know someone else has got a piece.'
Sanders said he's talked to groups of employees about how honesty is the best policy, even when covering something up seems oh-so tempting. 'It is really painful when you do get caught after you've already said 'I didn't do it,'' he said.
That sounded like he knew from personal experience. Was Sanders saying he'd attempted a cover-up?
'No,' he shot back. 'Are you kidding? I couldn't get away with anything.'
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