We, the People of Los Angeles….

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Twelve years ago, the voters of Los Angeles approved a new City Charter. According to its Preamble, the new Charter was proposed, in part, “… to establish a responsive, effective, and accountable government….”

The Charter adopted in 1999 did make it possible for City government to achieve these goals. It provided for an independent Board of Civil Service Commissioners, and it vested that Board with rule-making, enforcement, and oversight powers.

But incredibly, all three Mayors who’ve served under this new Charter have rejected the civil service system the voters approved. They degraded the Civil Service Board and usurped its powers. And they did that with the backdoor support of both the Personnel Department and the City Council’s Personnel Committee.

As it’s now administered, the Mayor’s civil service system treats City residents like one very big mushroom farm; it keeps them in the dark about happenings downtown. It turns the civil service system into a collection of individual departments, each one of which is managed by and accountable to a mayoral appointee. City departments are now expected to be virtually independent; they are not subject to oversight by the Board of Civil Service Commissioners.

To be charitable, one could assume that the Mayors liberated City agencies from the Board’s oversight for the purpose of enhancing service to the public. But based on the facts, one could frame a less-than-charitable assumption. All three Mayors did downsize the role of the Civil Service Commission. And that did give them virtually full control of the civil service system. Thus, degrading the Board may have been little more than a naked power-grab.

Angelenos should know that, with the Board of Civil Service Commissioners stifled, there’s no one in City Service who’s authorized to enforce the rules, no one to investigate rule violations, and no one to oversee employment practices. That leaves the City vulnerable to costly legal challenges. But it also forces departments to accept marginal job performance from employees.

Moreover, Angelenos should know that stifling the Board leaves City government without anyone who’s authorized to promulgate civil service rules. There’s no one to require that all employment tests be job-related, that performance appraisals accurately reflect employees’ job performance, etc. As long as City departments are allowed to make up their own rules and procedures, residents will be forced to pay more than they should for City services.

Angelenos should also know the good news: the City’s civil service system could be greatly improved right now. First steps in such an effort could be taken by Mayor Villaraigosa himself. He could, for example, encourage the Board of Civil Service Commissioners to require that the probationary period be used as a working test. Moreover, he could encourage the Board to require that performance appraisals used in City departments actually appraise performance.

As this column is submitted, we Angelenos, have two choices. We can sit and gripe while the City’s $4,000,000,000 workforce is mismanaged, or we can petition the Mayor to support the Board of Civil Service Commissioners in requiring City departments to stop violating civil service regulations and to stop wasting our tax dollars!

Angelenos who’d like to communicate with the Mayor can call him at (213) 978-0600, e-mail him at mayor@lacity.org, or write to him at: The Honorable Antonio R. Villaraigosa, Room 303, City Hall, 200 North Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.

You can contact Sam at samuelmsperling@yahoo.com.

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