By Claire Harlin
Charged with the daunting task of heading up customer service for San Diego Gas & Electric amid rate increases more than a decade ago, Terry Sinnott realized the importance of letting people have as much choice and control as possible — not being bureaucratic when things seems to be, well, bureaucratic.
Serving as Del Mar’s Mayor since the turn of the new year and as a City Council member since 2010, Sinnott said customer service looks much the same when dealing with the residents of Del Mar.
“Whether you are the customer of a utility company or city government, it seems there’s not a lot of choice because there’s only one entity to talk to,” said Sinnott, a Del Mar resident since 1976. “But that doesn’t mean all services are the same and they are not all mandated.”
Sinnott successfully strategized how to provide a two-way street of communication between SDG&E and customers in order to target and improve weaknesses, and he went on to start his own consulting company in which he continued to help organizations achieve their goals, mainly related to customer service-related and strategic planning.
Sinnott said he hopes his experience with customer service can work to the benefit of Del Mar, and he’d like to implement some measures that proved successful during his career. At the top of that list is conducting a survey of residents to gauge their perception of how the city is doing in the services it provides.
“Real effective customer service is based on learning, and you have to interact with customers to learn what they are experiencing and what’s positive and negative, and from that information you can develop new skills and strategies to make it better,” Sinnott said, adding that, with the support of the council, he would like to see a thorough inventory of the city’s various services performed.
As a consultant, Sinnott said he was generally charged with helping executives of large companies or organizations proceed with ideas or initiatives from the idea stage all the way to implementation.
“The challenge is to figure out the strategy, set goals and help the organization understand the idea and know how to implement it,” he said. Similarly, issues or ideas presented on the City Council must be represented to the community as best as possible.
“You have to use your head, make sure you aren’t overlooking something and consider the issue from all sides,” he said. “Once discussed in fullness, then the decisions the council makes are going to be much richer.”
Before his 13 years as a consultant and 23 years as an executive at SDG&E — which flourished from his beginnings as a utility truck dispatcher during college — Sinnott grew up in Mission Hills and attended San Diego High School. Even then, he was a leader at heart, having served as study body president in high school, as well as at Pomona College, where he graduated with a history degree in 1967.
The U.S. was on the brink of Vietnam War drafting, and having just missed the student deferment period, Sinnott applied and was accepted to the U.S. Navy Officers Candidate School in Newport Rhode Island. He then, at age 22, served one tour on the U.S.S. Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) in Vietnam, and then returned to San Diego for one tour as an instructor at Fleet Training Center. He said the two years of standing bridge watches and steering the aircraft carrier up and down the Gulf of Tonkin wasn’t easy work, but it certainly contributed to his character.
“One of the things the military does better than any organization in the country, is it takes young people and gives then a tremendous amount of responsibility,” he said. “You mature quickly.”
Sinnott, a father of two and grandfather of three, became active in the Del Mar community around 2003 when he started attending the Del Mar 2020 workshops. He then successfully brought residents together to underground utilities in the Ocean View Pines neighborhood. He continued serving by applying for a seat on the city’s finance committee, and then got on the boards of Del Mar Community Connections and Friends of Del Mar Parks.
He’s not sure if he’ll run again next year for City Council, but he said it all depends on if he does a good job — because that’s what makes it rewarding and satisfying.
“This isn’t a political job,” he said. “It’s a community volunteer job.”
For more information on Sinnott, visit http://