In Los Angeles, Council Committees Must Be Held Accountable


It’s not that the City’s do-nothing council has nothing to do; its duties are spelled out in the City Charter. According to Section 242(b), the council is to, 1) became fully informed of the business of the City, 2) to oversee all the functions of the City government, and 3) to legislate properly.
To discharge those duties, the council depends on its committees. They are supposed to provide the council with information and recommendations it needs to legislate properly. But that dependence may sometimes leave the council at the mercy of an unprincipled, self-serving chairperson.
For example, I recall hearing a termed-out councilman boast that he’d personally blocked council action on a certain matter. How? Well, he’d kept the relevant council file locked up in his desk. The issue was never put on his committee‘s agenda—never brought to the council floor.
Something like that may be happening today in the council’s Personnel Committee. It’s chaired by Councilman Dennis P. Zine. Under the Charter, that committee is expected to “become fully informed” of the City’s personnel system, and to share relevant information with the full council. But under Chairman Zine, the Personnel Committee has routinely ignored its duty. It has withheld information the council must have to act on a scandalous situation at City Hall
The scandal at city hall? Well, the city budget for 2009-10 comes to just under $7b. Of that total, $4b goes for employees. But city employees are routinely mismanaged and a pile of tax dollars are wasted. The Board of Civil Service Commissioners has been stifled; its powers have been usurped. And Civil Service rules are no longer enforced properly. Yet, Mr. Zine foolishly insists all those problems were resolved recently when the city’s 50-year-old trait-rating procedure was modified!
Based on numerous exchanges with the chairman, I’m convinced he doesn’t really believe in Civil Service. He seems to support the view initially inflicted on City Hall in 1993 by Mayor Riordan that City departments should be run like Fortune 500 companies.
Zine apparently believes the City’s Civil Service system should be dismantled—that the Board of Civil Service Commissioners should be permanently limited to hearing employee appeals and grievances. He seems to share Mayor Riordan’s view that the heads of City departments should be accountable directly to the Mayor, even though he/she may be an ambitious, career politician
Like Mayor Riordan, Chairman Zine has been reluctant to put this “New Paradigm” on the ballot. He’s afraid the voters of Los Angeles won’t support a proposal that would politicize their Civil Service system. But despite those concerns, Zine worked hand-in-glove with three mayors, each one of whom decided the voters were wrong in supporting an active Board of Civil Service Commissioners!
Mayors and councilmembers are elected officials. In theory, at least, they are accountable to their constituents. They can be recalled; support for their re-election can be withheld. But neither the City Council (as a body) nor its committees are elected. They are, in fact, accountable to no one. They can abandon their duties, serve themselves and give Angelenos even less reason to trust City government!

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Trouble-Finder at City Hall

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