Mushrooms Thrive in the Dark; Voters Need Transparency


The people of Los Angeles are being treated like mushrooms. They’re being kept in the dark by their “leaders” at City Hall. And it’s not just that a continuing attack on Civil Service is being covered up. No, there’s a far more serious problem than that. The fact is, City officials are purposely misleading the people about a secret plan that would politicize the City’s Civil Service system!
The attack on Civil Service dates back to 1993. That’s when Richard J. Riordan was sworn in as   Mayor of Los Angeles. From his first day in office, the new Mayor—who’d previously been a successful businessman—was determined to make radical changes in the City’s Civil Service system. He seemed to think City departments should be allowed to operate like Fortune 500 companies.
Riordan’s primary target was the Board of Civil Service Commissioners. Ironically, it was his right, and his duty, to appoint all five members of that board. He did what he was expected to do. Then, ignoring Sections 101 and 114 in the existing City Charter, he persuaded his appointees that they had no power to enforce Civil Service rules; no authority to oversee the Civil Service system!
Mayor Riordan was convinced the board must be stifled because—in his view—it simultaneously over-regulated department managers and failed to hold them accountable. For both those reasons, he usurped its powers and dramatically down-sized its role in City government. And, it should be noted, the Mayor did all that in secret—without public notice, without a vote of the electorate.
By handcuffing the board, Mayor Riordan effectively dismantled Civil Service. Instead of being an employment system, Civil Service in Los Angeles is now a collection of virtually independent departments. Each department is now managed by a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), appointed by, and—theoretically—accountable to, any politician who happens to occupy the Mayor’s office.
The decision to empower individual departments allows CAOs to retain the City’s archaic approach to Human Resource Management. It lets them cling (pathetically) to working tests that are not valid, and to performance appraisals that have already been found to be inherently unreliable. That, in turn, forces Angelenos to pay more than they should for the services they get from the City.
The radical changes Mayor Riordan (and his two successors) inflicted on the City’s Civil Service system could not have been made without the active support of other City officials. Two such officials deserve special mention:  Margaret M. Whalen (General Manager, Personnel Department) and Dennis P. Zine (Chairman, City Council’s Personnel Committee). Both these individuals have laid their careers on the line by dismissing the fact that Civil Service rules are not enforced, that rule violations are not investigated and that the City’s employment practices are not monitored.
The changes inflicted on the City’s Civil Service system since 1993 were made without legal authority. They were made with arrogant disregard for Charter Section 541, which vests the Civil Service Board with the power and duty to make and enforce the Civil Service rules, and to establish and maintain the Civil Service system. They were made by City officials who pretend that Charter Section 1019(a) doesn’t exist. These radical, misguided changes would not survive legal challenge.
Ironically, the leaders who’ve been treating Angelenos like mushrooms may soon be asking their victims to forgive and forget. They’ll be urging voters to support a Charter amendment that would legalize changes made by stealth and deception. But the voters haven’t forgotten how it feels to be treated like mushrooms! They won’t easily forgive those who’ve shattered their trust in government!

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