Two Ways to Fail


My father was a very religious man. He often reminded me about two ways that people fail as human beings. First, papa said, people betray their human nature when they do something bad, something wrong or illegal —something that hurts a neighbor or harms the neighborhood.

But according to papa, people also betray their humanity when they fail /refuse to do some good thing they could do. At this point, papa would tell me the Good Samaritan story. He’d finish his little talk by challenging me, “If you see a problem in our community (like a burned out street light, etc.) don’t turn your back on the problem; do what you can to get it fixed — it’s your job as a human being.”

I learned a lot from papa’s sermonettes, and I’m sure that what he taught me helped me in my civil service career. But based on that career, I must now admit I’m less optimistic than papa was about human nature.

It was papa’s conviction that people are naturally inclined to do what’s right — that no normal person turns a blind eye to situations desperately in need of fixing. Sadly, my experience at City Hall doesn’t let me share papa’s optimism. Consider:

Every City official — elected and appointed — knows that Civil Service Rule 1.26 is routinely trampled. Yet no one is moving a muscle to have that rule enforced.

Every official is aware that performance appraisals must appraise performance. Yet no one wants to replace the system which rates personal traits and habits.

Every official knows that appraisals based on subjective supervisory judgment are unreliable, yet no one supports the use of job-specific performance standards.

Every official knows that the probationary period must be used as the working test, but no one supports the proposal to validate probationary ratings.

Every official knows the working test is designed to keep marginal job-seekers off the City payroll, but no one wants to give up his/her 1950s rating practices.

Every City official in Los Angeles knows the mismanagement of human resources won’t stop until selection practices are significantly improved, yet no one has thus far assumed responsibility for the personnel function.

Every City official knows the mismanagement of human resources wastes public funds, yet no one has stepped up to protect the people they all claim to serve.

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Trouble-Finder at City Hall

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