Her Name is Margaret M. Whelan, and She’s Wasting Your Money

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In Los Angeles, she’s general manager of the Personnel Department, the city’s #1 authority on HRM. She’s vested by the charter with “the power and duty to administer the civil service system.” And she’s paid $220,000 a year to assert that power, to discharge that duty.

Now, administering the civil service system means “attending to the running of” that system. It means “being responsible for the implementation of” that system. It means “wielding authority over” that system. It also means “directing, supervising or managing” that system. But none of these definitions describes what Manager Whelan has actually been asked—by three successive mayors—to do.

Consider: During her ten years as general manager, charter provisions relating to the Board of Civil Service Commissioners have been routinely trampled. The Board has been degraded, its role has been reduced, and its powers have been claimed by the mayor’s office. All these outrageous violations were committed “in-house.” They were committed secretly—without public notice, without a vote of the people. And they were committed with Ms. Whelan’s active support!

For the past ten years, the civil service system in Los Angeles has been manipulated by a herd of self-serving city officials. A succession of mayors, joined by council leaders and Personnel’s GM, stifled the Board of Civil Service Commissioners. They dismissed warnings that the city’s $4B workforce was grossly mismanaged. They refused to investigate charges that the continued use of invalid employment tests allowed poor performers to achieve career status and gain property rights to jobs for which they’d not been properly tested. And no one held the Personnel Department accountable!

Clearly, Manager Whelan was hired not to administer the city’s civil service system, but to facilitate its demise. Her role was to do whatever it takes to dismantle that system—to replace it with an array of separate, virtually independent, departments. It was Mayor Riordan’s dream that all departments would eventually be run much like Fortune 500 companies. To realize that dream, he needed a “friendly” Personnel Department, a “pliant” General Manager. Margaret M. Whelan got the job.

By agreeing to work with Mayor Riordan, Ms. Whelan decided it would be OK if each department were allowed to choose for itself whether civil service rules should be enforced. She decided that it would be OK for each department to measure the performance of all its employees—regardless of their job-class, regardless of their duties and responsibilities—against a single, invalid trait list. She decided, in fact, that measuring employee performance isn’t really important!

With the Board of Civil Service Commissioners limited to hearing appeals/grievances, and with the Personnel Department committed to Mayor Riordan’s “New Paradigm,” there was no one at City Hall working for the people of Los Angeles. No one working to raise efficiency; no one working to enhance productivity. And no one monitored the growing gap between revenues and expenditures at City Hall.

Given a situation like that, it was just a matter of time before our “leaders” would run city government in the ditch! It’s not at all surprising that creditors now think the City of Los Angeles is a bad risk!

samuelmsperling@yahoo.com  (626) 576-8396 04-16-10

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