Ask Not What Your City Can Do for You … Ask What You Can Do for Your City


It’s been 52 years since President Kennedy delivered his memorable “Ask Not” inaugural address, but a version of his challenge to America might appropriately be delivered to the present City Management in Los Angeles.

As used in this column, the term “City Management” includes all elected and appointed officials in the City organization, with specific attention to the Mayor and Council and the managers of budgetary departments.

OK. So what could City Management do for Los Angeles? First, it could put the public back in Public Service. For the past 13 years, City Management has been pushing people out of government, reducing their participation in governmental affairs. It trampled the people’s Charter, degraded the people’s Civil Service Commission, and subjected the people’s civil service system to a radical do-over. And it did all that without letting the people know what it was doing! Angelenos have a right to be informed about, to be heard on issues that affect them; City Management has a duty to be more open, more transparent than it is now.

Secondly, City Management could upgrade its approach to the management of employee performance. Since the average City department spends 85 percent of its total appropriation for employee salaries, the people of Los Angeles would probably expect those employees to be exceptionally well-managed. That is not the case, however. City Management has been unwilling to replace its antiquated personnel practices with practices that are more efficient. It continues to support the use of invalid employment tests and unreliable performance appraisals. If City Management wants to serve the people, it must upgrade its personnel practices

Finally, those who represent City Management must honor their Oath of Office.

They all vow to obey the law, and they all vow to discharge their duties to the best of their ability. But based on their conduct, it would seem that some of them don’t take their promises very seriously. They violate their oath, betray their constituents, and complain when they are no longer trusted. But those who prove not to be trustworthy damage more than their own careers: They foster distrust of government itself. And for a democracy, widespread distrust of government could be a huge problem; it must not be allowed to happen in Los Angeles!

But who can hold City Management accountable? Well, by one count there are 59 members of that group, and there are 4,000,000 Angelenos! I like those odds!

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