Civil Service and the Misguided De-Regulators at City Hall


July 1, 2009 will mark the 16th anniversary of civil service deregulation in Los Angeles. On that date, Richard J. Riordan took over the office being vacated by Mayor Tom Bradley.  In the 1993 Mayoral election, Candidate Riordan had promised to give Angelenos a “new kind of leadership.” He said department heads should manage their own departments but they must be accountable to the Mayor.
As a candidate, Riordan had waged a ferocious campaign against the City’s civil service system— and against its Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity Plan. He’d described Civil Service as “an incredibly archaic employment system,” and he’d labeled AA/EEO as “reverse discrimination.”
To City Watchers, it was clear that Riordan didn’t know much about civil service— that he knew even less about the City’s AA/EEO. They predicted that if Riordan were elected, his ignorance (coupled with the things he “knew” that weren’t true) would be disastrous for Los Angeles. They were right!
It wasn’t clear where candidate Riordan got his mis-information but it was clear that he thought the heads of City departments were seriously over-regulated. In his view, “Managers must manage.” They must not be subject to oversight by the Board of Civil Service Commissioners. Instead, they must be accountable only to the Mayor. That, the candidate said, would enhance efficiency in City service.
Once elected, Mayor Riordan could have worked with the Personnel Department, and with his Civil Service Board to improve City Service. Antiquated personnel practices could have been replaced. A new, participative-management style could have been introduced.?Department heads could have been encouraged to develop a “high expectations” work environment. With his extensive business experience, Mayor Riordan could have brought a touch of excellence to City service.
Sadly, Mayor Riordan seemed less interested in making civil service excellent than in remaking it in his own image. During his eight years in office, the Board was persuaded not to make any new rules, and not to enforce the civil service provisions of the existing City Charter. The Personnel Department was advised to replace its “job-relatedness” standard with a lower, “user-friendly” standard. It was also persuaded to abandon a state-of-the-art, Tasks & Standards performance appraisal procedure that had been approved by the previous Administration and the City Council. And department heads were informed they’d no longer be expected to comply with “every inefficient procedural guarantee.”
In short, Mayor Riordan transmogrified the City’s civil service system into a collection of separate departments  He did all this knowing full well that he was trashing the existing City Charter. It was, no doubt, his hope that a new Charter would be adopted which would legitimatize his illegal, seven-year scheme to remake civil service in Los Angeles.
Well, on June 8, 1999, a new City Charter was adopted. Its operative date was July 1, 2000— just one year before Mayor Riordan was due to be termed out.  But to his chagrin, it did not legitimatize his illegal, seven-year scheme to remake the City’s civil service system. In fact, the new Charter clarified the powers and duties vested in the Board of Civil Service Commissioners!
With only one year to go, Riordan might have been concerned that his illegal scheme would be exposed by the next Mayor. But he found a way to sell Jimmy Hahn on his “New Paradigm.”  Four years later, he endorsed Antonio Villaraigosa, and backed him with sizable campaign contributions. Villaraigosa was elected and he, too, bought into the illegal “New Paradigm.”  Now all three of those self-serving Mayors have to hope the Charter will soon be amended to legitimatize their shameful power-grab!
But it’s entirely possible that won’t happen. Angelenos have no reason to trust politicians who would deregulate and weaken the oversight of programs designed to serve the public. Voters in Los Angeles won’t soon forget that the current economic meltdown in America happened because their elected representatives supported unwarranted deregulation, and failed to maintain effective oversight!

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