The tiny Office of Protocol is exactly the kind of institution most San Diegans don't know exists. But there it is in Mayor Jerry Sanders' proposed budget, a line item asking for $143,000 for this office and its single employee. That employee, director Lynn Híjar, bears the responsibility of preventing Sanders from embarrassing himself when foreign dignitaries come to visit.
"We make sure he doesn't offend anyone by mistake. Like when the Japanese exchange business cards-that has to be done the right way. And we make sure the visit is all arranged and scheduled properly," Híjar told CityBeat.
Apparently, foreign dignitaries show up about three times a month. San Diego has 15 sister cities around the world, from Campinas, Brazil, to Vladivostok, Russia, and their city leaders come by regularly. Recently, the premier of Manitoba, Canada, (think governor) visited as part of his campaign to persuade American cities to act to slow global warming and save the polar bears. He gave the city a glass paperweight engraved with his signature and a polar bear. Sanders gave him a key to the city. And he should be happy, because lower-level officials get only a picture book. "We don't have much money for expensive gifts, and they can't usually accept them, anyway," Híjar said.
Of course, the Office of Protocol is set up only to help the mayor. On one occasion, when Sanders was away, City Council President Scott Peters was on his own when he received a delegation from Tanzania. They gave him what his spokesperson Pam Hardy called "an elegantly carved statue." He gave them a San Diego City Commendation. The statue still sits in Peters' office. Híjar says displaying gifts publicly is the polite thing to do.
If you've been to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum, you know the rules: no bottled water, no cell phones, no photography. No guns, no knives. Caustic material and explosives are forbidden. No animals, either.
For the next six months, the museum will house 27 (though no more than 15 at a time) of the oldest known biblical texts, making for the largest-ever public display of the scrolls.
To beef up security before the scrolls' arrival, the museum was awarded roughly $80,000 by the Department of Homeland Security's Urban Area Security Initiative for nonprofit institutions considered to be at "high risk" for a terrorist attack. Of the seven San Diego nonprofits awarded a grant in 2006, six were Jewish organizations, the seventh being the museum, which spent the money on security cameras and door locks.
Dave Dalton, head of security for the museum, said that although it's been busy ("busier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs," as he put it), there've been no threats.
"I keep my ear to the drums pretty closely," Dalton said. "I check with organizations on a regular basis to see if there's been any intelligence that would suggest there's any known threats or risk, and [there are] none that I'm aware of."
Dalton said the museum had to sign agreements with each of the five countries that loaned items to the exhibit (Ethiopia, Jordan, England, Russia and Israel) to guarantee everything would be kept safe and secure.
So far, things have been so mellow that, when asked if anything unexpected had happened, the only anecdote Dalton recalled involved a pet mouse named Theodore, whose owner, an elderly woman, wanted to bring along to see the scrolls. "As much as I would love Theodore to see the exhibition," Dalton said he told the woman, "we probably ought not let him in.
"She understood," he added.