City Management and the “Don’t Snitch” Syndrome


They’ve just buried another rapper victim in Chicago. Remember him? He’s the honor student who was beaten to death while classmates and passers-by stood and watched. No one helped the student, and no one is now helping the police catch his murderers. People are afraid they could be the next victim if they’re seen talking to the police.
It’s a sick, sick situation, and it’s not confined to Chicago. A strain of that sickness has turned up at City Hall in Los Angeles. Indeed, over the past 16 years a number of City officials have tested positive for the “Don’t Snitch” syndrome. But what are officials afraid of? Surely they don’t fear being beaten or killed. Officials don’t always explain why they won’t talk about issues that affect their constituents.
Consider, for example, the current mess in Civil Service. Members of the City Council were aware as early as 1993 that Mayor Riordan was claiming for himself certain powers vested in the Board of Civil Service Commissioners. Council members knew the mayor wasn’t allowing the board to do what the Charter requires it to do. Yet none of those “honorable” members stood up to Riordan. No one on the council had the backbone to tell Angelenos that the mayor was corrupting their Civil Service system!
The council’s cowardice continued in 2001 when Jimmy Hahn was sworn in as Mayor. It continued four years later when Antonio R. Villaraigosa became the Mayor of Los Angeles. To this very day, a wimpy City Council bows to the rappers and lets the mayors’ unlawful scheme go unchallenged.
By failing to speak out, council members betray their constituents. And they’re joined in that betrayal by other City officials, the department managers. According to Mayor Riordan, the Board of Civil Service Commissioners was downsized primarily to benefit managers. It was stifled so managers could run their departments—so they could be held accountable.
But freeing managers from oversight by the board seems to have had an unexpected effect. Employee performance is now more likely to be mismanaged than before. Moreover, managers are now less accountable than before. That’s certainly true with respect to two vital components of human resource management: employee selection and performance appraisal.
Soon after he was installed as Mayor of Los Angeles, Richard J. Riordan blocked consideration of a personnel department publication, The Supervisor’s Guide to Performance Appraisal. That guide had taken 10 years to produce. It had been approved by Mayor Bradley and the City Council. Had Riordan supported the guide, the probationary period would now be used as a valid working test, and annual appraisals would accurately reflect what employees do on the job.
But since 1993, no department manager has publicly supported the common-sense notion that probationary ratings and periodic performance reviews must be job-specific and performance-based. Like their elected counterparts, appointed officials have demonstrated a “let the public be damned” attitude. They covered their behinds and, like a herd of sheep, they followed the mayors over the cliff!
The silence of City officials—their refusal to stand up for the people—marks them all as self-serving pretenders who’ll do almost anything to retain their positions. It’s a sickness only the voters can cure.

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