Why Conroy should go

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EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom made a weak attempt to deal with the political fallout from the Office of Emergency Services audit last week, appointing Laura Phillips, who appears to have some qualifications for the job, as the head of emergency communications.

But Newsom refuses to follow the most important recommendation from the scathing audit. OES director Annemarie Conroy still has her job.

It's more than a little bit unsettling: Newsom, who claims to be a competent manager, is sticking with Conroy, the Donald Rumsfeld of San Francisco, an incompetent political crony who won the job only as part of a stupid and transparently political deal.

The audit, by Board of Supervisors budget analyst Harvey Rose, shows why this sort of political chess game is such a bad idea. Conroy, who had no credentials whatsoever for the top disaster planning job, has, not surprisingly, fared poorly. Her office, the audit says, is larded with top management a full 40 percent of her staff are at the highly paid management level, which Rose called "unacceptable" while little of the $82 million it’s received in federal and state grants has gone to emergency training. Conroy has bungled efforts at coordinating disaster planning with other departments and hasn't even applied for federal reimbursement for some $7.6 million that the city is owed.

Conroy, a lawyer and former supervisor, got the $170,000-a-year job largely because Newsom wanted to get Tony Hall off the Board of Supervisors. So he offered Hall a plum job running the Treasure Island Development Authority but since Conroy was already in that job, Newsom had to move her someplace else, and he chose emergency services. The problem is, this is no sleepy bureaucratic backwater where a hack can rest on a nice salary for a few years without doing any real damage. The OES handles a huge amount of money and is responsible for getting the city ready for things like a major earthquake, which every scientist agrees is overdue, or a terrorist attack, which is certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

This was the sort of game former mayor Willie Brown played all the time, shuffling political allies around to agencies and commissions without much regard for the public policy impact. Newsom promised to do better, but the fact that he's still standing behind Conroy is evidence that he's letting old-fashioned politics get in the way of running the city.

Let's face it: Annemarie Conroy should never have been appointed to the OES and clearly isn't up to the job. Rose recommends abolishing her position and letting the new head of emergency communications run the whole show. That seems like an excellent idea. SFBG