The Next Mayor of Los Angeles Will Have a Very Big Job


Whoever follows Antonio R. Villaraigosa into the Mayor’s office will be very busy. He/she will spend a lot of time cleaning up the mess Villaraigosa—and his two predecessors—have made. Our next Mayor’s challenge will be to transform a seriously underachieving Civil Service into an excellent public service organization!
Presumably, the next Mayor of Los Angeles will promise to support the City Charter. He/she will undoubtedly be familiar with those Charter provisions that establish the Board of Civil Service Commissioners. Hopefully, he/she will understand that the City’s 50,000-member workforce must be managed in accordance with those provisions.
But the new Mayor will quickly discover that, for the past 16 years, the City’s civil service system has been handcuffed. The Board has been degraded, its role has been downsized, its powers have been usurped. Since 1993, Civil Service rules have been routinely violated, and the City’s employment practices have been shielded from effective oversight.
In Los Angeles, the attack on Civil Service began when Richard J. Riordan was elected Mayor. He’d been a successful venture capitalist and was openly contemptuous of the City’s civil service system. Dismissing the Charter, he freed department heads from oversight by the Board of Civil Service Commissioners. He said he—not the Board—would hold department heads accountable. But in the end, he made department heads report to his Chief of Staff!
The attack on Civil Service continued under Mayor Hahn; it continues now under the current Mayor, Antonio R. Villaraigosa. While this column is not yet ready to list the ways City government has suffered under the three Mayors, it is clear that STIFLING THE CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION HASN’T ENHANCED PRODUCTIVITY OR RAISED EFFICIENCY. AND IT SURELY HASN’T SLOWED THE EFFORT TO POLITICIZE HIRING DECISIONS IN CITY SERVICE!
When Antonio leaves, his successor will have to decide whether to trample the example set by the three Mayors, or to follow the rule of law. Once that decision is made, the new Mayor could assemble the HR team provided for in the Charter. He/she could appoint a Board of committed Civil Service Commissioners, as well as a recognized HR authority to lead the Personnel Department.
Working without political interference, this HR team could raise organizational efficiency throughout City Service. It could help department heads focus on a comprehensive approach to performance management, including the installation of a Tasks & Standards appraisal system. By itself, the installation of such a system would strengthen two HR components: employee selection and the periodic review of employee performance.
Working without political interference, the City-wide HR team could move aggressively to train first-level supervisors, to help departments maintain a positive work environment, and to significantly expand employees’ responsibility for their own jobs. Together, efforts such as these would enhance workforce productivity and help control the cost of City government!
If the people of Los Angeles care about honest, effective government, they’ll start now thinking ahead to the next mayoral election—and to the massive clean-up job they’ll expect their new Mayor to tackle!

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