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Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023

San Diego to Say G’Bye to ‘Navy Mayor’

Defense: Ronne Froman Led Major Changes in Service’s Local Structure

In 1997, Rear Adm. Ronne Froman was faced with the “do more with less” motto, so she embarked upon an ambitious plan to slash the Navy’s local budget and to simplify local operations.

Almost three years and $41.4 million later, the 52-year-old “Navy Mayor” of San Diego has accomplished her goal, and then some.

Froman, who steps down as commander of Navy Region Southwest next month, recounts the exhausting and sometimes bumpy effort she has led to bring best business practices to the Navy.

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Froman’s multiyear cost-savings plan has included consolidating local commands and combining services like child care.

Budget cuts over the last couple of years have resulted in more than 700 military and civilian layoffs. Some of those employees were offered early retirement or were placed in other parts of the organization.

“We’ve been able to look at efficiencies but we’re still chasing budget cuts,” said Froman, who oversees shore-based facilities in California, Nevada and Arizona.

“We had prepared to take a $16 million cut this year and we got another $9.2 million cut in October,” she said about Navy Region Southwest’s fiscal 2000 budget. “Then we just got another $4 million cut. Once again, we’re playing catch up.”

Froman said if the Navy is going to remain effective, it must change the way funds are allocated and distributed.

“When we make these cuts, we make them in our maintenance and repairs. As we look into the future we really need to focus on quality of work life. We haven’t been focusing enough on the condition of parts, tools and the workplace.”

One way the Navy can become more effective is by establishing strong relationships with corporate America and with neighboring communities, Froman said.

“The Navy can no longer operate by itself. When I first came, I talked about being a good neighbor, but I really didn’t understand what that meant. In other regions, the Navy is working with the community, but I don’t think there’s the same closeness.”

That closeness Froman is talking about has aided the local Navy’s efforts over the last couple years, including a $55 million nuclear homeporting project at North Island Naval Air Station on Coronado.

The project brings three nuclear-powered aircraft carriers to San Diego. One carrier, the USS John C. Stennis, is already here. The USS Nimitz, which will replace the USS Constellation, is slated to arrive in 2002. The USS Ronald Reagan will follow in 2005.

No Longer Alone

The project has had several local opponents, mainly those concerned with environmental and safety impacts.

Just last month, the California Coastal Commission unanimously approved the homeporting project, clearing the way for the Navy to build a wharf and support facilities at North Island.

Froman credits many in the San Diego community , including the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce , for the project’s approval.

“The first time I went to the Coastal Commission, I stood by myself. Going to the Coastal Commission the last time, we didn’t stand there by ourselves,” she said.

Another successful community effort has been the Navy’s public-private housing venture, which is also being used as a Navywide model.

Local Navy officials are reviewing private developer proposals to replace 800 units of military housing in Serra Mesa and to build more than 500 units at the former Naval Training Center on Point Loma.

“In order to survive in California, these partnerships are important,” Froman said.

Besides community relations and business management, Froman has also learned a lot about politics in San Diego.

‘Unique Experience’

“There are a lot of politics swirling around,” she said. “There’s not a school in the Navy that teaches you about politics. This was like earning a Ph.D. in the Navy, community relations, politics and budgets.

“This has been a unique experience. I hope to be able to take this experience to Washington with me,” said Froman, who reports to the Pentagon next month as director of shore installation management for the Navy.

The path Froman has paved will now be handed over to Rear Adm. Frederick R. Ruehe.

In his nearly 30 years in the Navy, Ruehe, a trained aviator, has had several tours in San Diego.

Before being named San Diego’s new Navy Mayor, Ruehe was executive assistant to the chief of staff of the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic in Norfolk, Va.

Froman has had some time to show Ruehe the ropes.

‘Still Some Bumps’

“There are still some road bumps ahead,” Froman said. “The next piece is probably going to be harder. There are still naysayers.

“But Adm. Ruehe has a great attitude. He will step in comfortably. I told him he will spend more time with his civilian counterparts than with his military counterparts, which is unusual in the Navy.”

While Froman has been credited with shaping San Diego into a model for the rest of the Navy, she said she hasn’t done it alone , she’s had support not only from community and business leaders but also from her dedicated staff.

“It’s been an exhausting job,” she said. “Effecting this much change wears on your personality. It can make you cranky. But everybody hung on.

“The thing that’s most overwhelming to me is how do you say ‘thank you’ to all those people who have passionately helped? I’m at a loss for words.”


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