Vol 9 Issue 8
My column in CityWatch last week announcing the retirement of Bill Robertson, Director of the Bureau of Streets Services, drew a lot of comments supporting the notion that his departure would be a great loss to the City of LA but with an interesting twist.
Testimonials from the community included EB from Sunland Tujunga, who wrote:
“Bill Robertson is all that Stephen Box says he is and more. I had the privilege of working with Bill on a local project. He and his staff were efficient, involved, knowledgeable, thoughtful and creative.
Shortly after the Sunland Tujunga NC was established, Bill came personally to our Land Use Committee meeting to discuss how we were going to handle the repairs in our sadly deteriorating neighborhood roadways.
I attended one of his workshops on "How to handle LA's sidewalks or the lack of them! Once again, he proved how logical and practical he is.
I would be delighted to stump for him if he would run for Mayor.”
Testimonials from the inside included this comment from JF who wrote:
I want to congratulate you for the wonderful article you wrote about Bill Robertson. I am a friend of his and your comments were right on.
He will be missed but thankfully he has two very talented assistant directors that can continue to run the Bureau of Street Services as best as possible in these difficult times.
Typical retirement accolades review the past and shower praise on performance but those who know Bill Robertson reflected a unique perspective, one that falls into the “He’s so good, you won’t know he’s gone!”
In looking back over the last few months, I realized that Robertson had been uncharacteristically missing from some key meetings, a strategy that I now realize was part of his leadership development strategy.
At the Mayor’s Summit in August, I sat next to Nazario Sauceda in a room filled with Department Managers and assumed that Robertson’s absence was due to schedule conflicts but I now realize that Robertson was busy replacing himself.
At the last meeting I attended at the Bureau of Street Services, I was greeted at the door by Robertson who then disappeared and left Sauceda and Ron Olive in charge. Again I attributed it to a scheduling conflict but now I see that Robertson was planning for the future.
Again in December, the Bureau of Street Services held a meeting in Hollywood, the type of meeting that Robertson is famous for attending, but he was nowhere to be seen. In hindsight, I now realize that his influence was even greater than his presence.
USC’s School of Public Policy profiled Robertson a few years ago and declared him an “Exemplar of Politics and Public Management” noting his commitment to relationships in the community, within the department, and within City Hall.
They also noted that his military training has resulted in a commitment to creating an organization that continues functioning smoothly and without interruption, even if the leader falls.
“If I’m gone tomorrow,” Robertson is quoted as reflecting, “Nazario will step into my office, and nobody would know I was there.”
Robertson has been right about a lot of things but he’s wrong about this. The people of LA will definitely know he was there! The best way to honor his investment in the future of LA is to work together to develop Citywide succession strategies that move LA forward.
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net. Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)