A Citizen’s Complaint About Governmental Wrongdoing

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In Los Angeles, the Charter establishes the City’s personnel function in two related Sections. Section 540 vests the Personnel Department with the power and duty to administer the civil service system. Section 541 vests the Board of Civil Service Commissioners with the power and duty to make and enforce the civil service rules and to {oversee} the civil service system. A separate Charter Section, 1019(a), directs the Board to investigate rule violations.

These provisions were part of the Charter when it was approved by the Los Angeles electorate on June 8, 1999. They became effective July 1, 2000. Sadly, they’ve been violated by all three City Mayors who’ve served under the new Charter — Richard J. Riordan, James K. Hahn and Antonio R. Villaraigosa.

It’s my view that all three Mayors were well-intentioned; they were committed to the principle that “Managers Must Manage.” In effect, they were trying to raise the level of management throughout the City organization. That effort was surely commendable. But beginning with Riordan, the three Mayors seemed to assume that departmental management could be enhanced only if managers were freed from oversight by the Board of Civil Service Commissioners.

Based on that false assumption, and without voter approval, the three Mayors turned the City’s civil service system into a collection of separate agencies, each one headed by a mayoral appointee who is accountable only to the Mayor who appointed him/her.

The fact is, none of the Mayors required the Personnel Department to administer the civil service system. They seemingly didn’t care that the General Manager permitted agency heads to continue using invalid employment tests — to rely on performance appraisals that are inherently unreliable.

Moreover, each Mayor in turn degraded the Board of Civil Service Commissioners and grabbed its powers for himself. At the same time, duties assigned the Board by Charter Sections 540 and 1019(a) were ignored. Thus, Civil service rules are no longer enforced, the City’s employment practices are no longer monitored, and rule violations are no longer investigated.

The danger in this situation is that control of the City’s civil service system has been turned over to the City’s most powerful politician. That opens the door for a return of the Spoils System, with City jobs awarded on the basis of connections, rather than competence. It facilitates nepotism and corruption.

To make matters worse, the Los Angeles City Council has repeatedly refused to discharge its oversight responsibility — refused to investigate documented charges of rule violations, HR mismanagement and the waste of scarce tax dollars which accompanies the mismanagement of a 4$B workforce.

In Los Angeles, the personnel function is controlled by this Mayor-Council coalition. It has, effectively, dismantled the City’s civil service system. It tramples the Charter, violates the rules and serves itself.

The ugly truth is that residents of Los Angeles are betrayed by the politicians they elected to serve them. Their right to representative government is violated when politicians subject the civil service system to a radical make-over—without a vote of the electorate!

Angelenos must know that an investigation has been requested. They must also know that people get the governance they tolerate. Good government doesn’t just happen. It’s a second job for all of us!

You can email Samuel Sperling at samuelmsperling@yahoo.com.

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