The Mess in Civil Service: It Smells a Lot Like Collusion


Collusion: 1. A secret understanding, esp. for a fraudulent purpose. 2. Such an understanding between ostensible opponents in a lawsuit.

In Monterey Park, a wealthy octogenarian died, leaving his long-time Certified Nursing Assistant a large sum of money. The man’s son demanded she give the money to him. She refused. He retained a lawyer and threatened to have her deported. She hired a lawyer. The two lawyers met, the CNA’s lawyer sold her out. He agreed to help the son’s lawyer get a favorable, out-of-court settlement. He told the CNA that her good name might be sullied and advised her to settle for a fraction of the money she’d been given… Frightened and not knowing what else to do, she accepted her lawyer’s advice.
As an experienced city watcher, I’m convinced that a form of collusion is currently corrupting city government in Los Angeles. Consider these facts:
The Los Angeles City Charter was approved by the voters on June 8, 1999 and became effective July 1, 2000. By dividing power between the Executive and Legislative Branches, the new Charter wisely provides for a balance of power in city government. While it gives the mayor management authority over virtually all city departments, it assigns the council and its committees the duty to oversee all the functions of city government.
Based on these facts, I must regretfully report that the balance of power provided for in the new Charter is not working. The City Council is AWOL. It’s betrayed the public trust and deserted its post!
During the new Charter’s first year (and Mayor Riordan’s last year in office), the Mayor quietly ignored Charter Sections which vest the Board of Civil Service Commissioners with enforcement, investigative and oversight powers. And he quietly subjected the city’s Civil Service System to a radical make-over.
Although Riordan acted in secret, his views were well-known: city departments should be operated like Fortune 500 companies; each department should be managed by a Chief Administrative Officer who would, of course, be accountable to him and not to the Board of Civil Service Commissioners. To achieve this goal, Mayor Riordan degraded the board, downsized its role and usurped its powers.
Before leaving office 10 years ago, Mayor Riordan persuaded his successor—Jimmy Hahn—to accept his “New Paradigm” and to retain several of his appointees. Later, he persuaded Mayor Villaraigosa to hire his Chief of Staff, Robin Kramer. Thus, it’s not at all surprising that L.A. is now using an illegal, Riordan-style Civil Service System. It is civil service without an active board—civil service without rules. And the lack of effective rule enforcement permits—encourages—waste and mismanagement!
But what does it say about the City Council that, over a 10-year period, it’s made little or no effort to oversee the city’s personnel function? There may be more to the council’s inaction than meets the eye.
Angelenos need to know, for example, if the Personnel Department facilitated the effort to stifle the Board of Civil Service Commissioners. They also need to know if the council’s Personnel Committee facilitated the effort to shift powers vested in the board to the mayor’s office. Changing civil service without a vote of the people violates the Rule of Law. Angelenos won’t accept that from their leaders!

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