What the Mayor Could Do To Help Los Angeles Recover From Its Current Crisis

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There’s no question city government is in big trouble. According to Miguel Santana, City Administrative Officer, Los Angeles is facing a $320-million fiscal shortfall next year. If ever there were a time for Mayor Villaraigosa to provide the leadership he was elected to provide, that time has surely come.

With that in mind, this column offers several suggestions he might consider which, together, could help cut the cost of city government without any further cuts in service.

First, the mayor could honor his oath of office. When he was sworn in, he promised to support the Charter of the City of Los Angeles. By taking that oath, he became the city’s chief executive officer; and he promised to devote his entire time to the duties of his office. That promise must now be honored.

Second, the mayor should exercise management authority over city service. To date, he’s allowed department heads to run their own organizations. In effect, he’s dismantled the civil service system in Los Angeles; he’s turned it into an unmanageable collection of independent departments, bureaus and offices.

Third, in exercising his management authority, the mayor should make effective use of whatever assistance is legally available to him. For example, the council has a duty to oversee all city functions. For ten years, the council has failed to do that. But factual reports from the council’s personnel committee could help the mayor manage the city’s largest single expenditure — its $4 billion workforce.

As provided in the charter, the mayor should also make appropriate use of the Board of Civil Service Commissioners. Working with an effective personnel department, the Civil Service Commission would enforce the rules and oversee the city’s civil service system. That would raise the quality — while lowering the cost — of city services.

Fourth, the mayor should hold department managers accountable. He could remind them that over half the city’s budget goes for employees—that employees are the city’s most valuable, and most expensive, resource. And he could challenge managers to focus on the need for effective management of employee performance.

Fifth, Villaraigosa could encourage the formation of Joint Labor-Management Partnerships. Such partnerships are specifically provided for in the charter. They could be used to set goals, solve problems, create incentives, and in other ways improve efficiency throughout the city organization.

Finally, Villaraigosa could use his position to inspire city employees. He could remind them that they are part of a noble effort. He could help them understand that in times like these, the whole public service has a special opportunity to make life better for hurting communities. He could ask everyone to focus on that goal.

This is a tough time to be mayor in Los Angeles. It’s a time that calls on Villaraigosa to be an effective chief executive officer. It’s a time that requires him to provide the leadership everyone can follow in bringing city service back to life again.

Contact Samuel Sperling at samuelmsperling@yahoo.com or (626) 576-8396.

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