A Century of Corruption at City Hall

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When Tom Bradley left the Mayor’s office in 1993,Los Angeles had an old City Charter and a working civil service system. Now, three Mayors and 20 years later,Los Angeles has a new Charter and a crippled civil service system. How the system was wrecked is the subject of this column.

Soon after he was elected, Mayor Bradley launched a program to bring the City’s personnel practices in line with civil service regulations and Federal Guidelines. More specifically, the Mayor’s goal was to ensure that all the City’s personnel practices were job-related and consistent with the Merit Principle.

Responsibility for the Mayor’s program was assigned to the Board of Civil Service Commissioners and the Personnel Department. Initially, their focus was on two critical components of Personnel Management: Employee Selection and Performance Appraisal.

Personnel published a brochure, Supervisor’s Guide to Performance Appraisal, which proposed a practical way to improve both Selection and Appraisal. What the Guide called for was a whole new approach to performance appraisal. Instead of rating traits and habits, City departments would now be asked to evaluate what employees actually do on the job!

A draft of that Guide was approved by the Mayor, by the Council’s Personnel Committee, and then by the full Council. It seemed thatLos Angelesmight soon be one of a very small number of large American cities with a performance appraisal system that actually appraises performance!

Sadly, that did not happen. Mayor Bradley retired. He was followed in the Mayor’s Office by Richard J. Riordan, a former businessman who made no effort to conceal his contempt for Civil Service.

Riordan’s stated goal was to turn the civil service system into a collection of virtually independent departments. To that end, he buried the Guide and degraded the Board of Civil Service Commissioners. Moreover, he let it be known that Department Managers could keep their one-size-fits-all rating procedures.

Riordan had been Mayor of Los Angeles for 7 years when the voters approved a new Charter. He couldn’t have been pleased by certain provisions of that new Charter. Consider, for example, Section 541: “…The Board of Civil Service Commissioners shall have the power and duty to make and enforce the civil service rules and to establish and maintain the civil service system…”

OMG! What could Riordan do now? For 7 years he’d told his “team” that the Civil Service Commission had no power, no duty. How could he explain Charter Section 541? Well, he’d just pretend that it doesn’t exist. So, for his final year as Mayor, he persuaded his followers that nothing had changed: managers must manage, no matter what the City Charter — or the Civil Service Rules — may say!

Mayor Riordan’s gone now, but the damage he did lives on. It becomes visible whenever City departments fail to use the probationary period as the final test in employee selection. And that’s evident when a Department Head, like the Police Commission, approves the use of a phony rating form, like LAPD 01.78.3, as the basis for the decision to retain-or-remove individual probationers.

You can send questions and comments to samuelmsperling@yahoo.com.

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