The Los Angeles City Charter establishes two separate branches of government — the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch. Charter Sections 230 and 231 describe the Mayor’s powers and duties, while Section 240 describes the Council’s legislative power. And Section 242(b) — a portion of which is cited here — describes the duties of the Council and its committees:
— “The duty of the Council and its committees is to become fully informed of the business of the City so as to oversee all the functions of the City government and report to the Council any information or recommendations necessary to enable the Council to properly legislate.”
The separation of governmental powers is a sound principle. Its purpose is to prevent the Executive Branch from abusing its power. Theoretically, that purpose is achieved by requiring the Legislative Branch to oversee Executive Branch actions, to investigate and report Executive Branch abuses.
Sadly, the separation of powers doesn’t always work at City Hall. On some issues, the Mayor may find it advantageous to create a “coalition” with key Council members. Through such a coalition, the Mayor may get measures passed that would otherwise be defeated. Other issues may be held up by the Chairman — never get to the Council. Clearly, that’s not how separation of powers is supposed to work.
For example, the Council’s Personnel Committee is duty-bound to become fully informed on the City’s personnel function. It’s obligated to inform the Council about personnel problems it observes. Yet, for a number of years that Committee (whose Chairman was a member of an anti-civil service gang) sat and watched while a succession of Mayors trampled the Charter, degraded the Civil Service Commission, usurped its powers, and corrupted the Los Angeles City Service.
As Chairman of the Council’s Personnel Committee, Dennis P. Zine was woefully uninformed about the City’s civil service system. He seemed sadly unaware that employment tests that are not job-related have been rejected by the United States Supreme Court. Worse, he seemed not to understand that invalid employment tests allow poor/marginal employees to achieve career status and claim property rights to City positions for which they were not properly tested. Mr. Zine seemed not to care that invalid employment tests dumb-down the system and jack up the cost of City Services!
Incredibly, the Council’s Personnel Committee sat and watched while department heads continued to use invalid employment tests — continued to rely on appraisals that are inherently unreliable. Under Chairman Zine, that Committee allowed department heads to continue mismanaging the City’s Four Billion Dollar Workforce — allowed them to continue wasting the City’s human and fiscal resources!
As Chairman of the Personnel Committee, Mr. Zine had the power to conduct investigations. But as a member of the Mayor’s gang, he seemed unwilling to use that power. He was asked to investigate written allegations that City employment practices trample the City Charter, violate the rules of the Civil Service Commission, dismiss the Uniform Guideline on Employee Selection Procedures, and ignore a raft of significant court decisions. He rejected that request and refused to discuss the issue.
As this column comes to an end, readers may join me in asking, “Why hasn’t this scandalous situation received more public attention?” How is it that Angelenos have been denied factual information about their government? Who’s responsible for treating the people of Los Angeles like a mushroom farm?
This situation is not new. It goes back to 1993. That’s when Richard J. Riordan was elected Mayor of Los Angeles. He was not a Civil Service fan! He wanted to make fundamental changes at City Hall, but he could not be sure the voters would share his views. So he — and his Council coalition — decided to give Civil Service a radical make-over — and to do that by stealth, without authority, without public notice.
What’s important is what readers of this column do now that they know the ugly truth about City Hall in Los Angeles. At the very least, Angelenos should use the 11 months available to them to learn as much as they can about the individuals who are campaigning to lead the City after the March 5 elections.
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