A Citizen’s Suggestion to the City Council’s Budget Committee

I’m aware that the CAO has submitted a 440-page report loaded with proposed budget cuts. I’m also aware that Chairman Parks reduces the City’s options to furloughs and lay-offs. Since such a large part of the budget goes for employees, I agree that one way or another, the size of the City’s workforce must be reduced. With that in mind, I ask the Committee to make cuts which address two problems in City Service: the over-use of exempt positions, and the mismanagement of employee performance.

Based on a recent report, City departments are authorized to hire a total of about 3,000 exempt employees. In my view, the use of such large numbers of exempt positions opens the door to nepotism, cronyism, kick-backs and other corrupt practices reminiscent of the “Spoils System.”

To reduce this threat to the City’s civil service system, and to cut the City budget, I urge the Budget Committee to eliminate all 180 exempt Aide positions currently authorized for the Mayor’s Office, and all the 270 exempt Aide positions authorized for the City Council. I also ask the Committee to cut the five Public Works Commissioner positions, and to limit departments to one exempt Assistant GM position.

And with respect to the second problem, Members of the Budget Committee should ask themselves if they would applaud departments that assign two employees to do what one employee could be assigned to do. If Committee members would not favor such underutilization of human resources, they should ask the Chief of Police to explain why his Department uses so few one-officer patrol cars.

It’s been a while since I read up on this issue, but I recall reading that many police departments, some of them fairly large, make far more use of one-officer cars than does the LAPD. I also recall reading a piece by an authority on this subject who explained that with a sound back-up procedure, the use of one-officer patrol cars could improve police protection and control costs — without exposing officers to greater danger. Given the current fiscal crisis, any suggestion which could have a significant impact on the City budget must be given serious consideration.

Now, with respect to the underutilization of civilian employees, the experts have been telling us that American organizations, especially service organizations, may be getting only 50 percent of the productivity presently available from their employees. A former General Manager of the Personnel Department, Muriel M. Morse, concurred in that bleak assessment. She indicated it may apply to some departments in City Service.

The problem is, there’s no one in charge of City Service. The last three Mayors — Riordan, Hahn and Villaraigosa — turned the City’s civil service system into a collection of independent departments. But letting departments run themselves has done nothing to raise the quality or cut the cost of City services.

As this letter is written, department heads are dumbing-down the City’s civil service system. They’re putting employees on the City payroll who haven’t properly demonstrated their fitness for the job. Moreover, department heads are relying on performance appraisals that are inherently unreliable. And they’re underutilizing the skills and abilities, the energy and initiative employees bring to the job.

What Los Angeles needs is a commitment by the City’s Management Team to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to upgrade performance management throughout the City organization. That’s an agreement the Budget Committee should exact before sending an approved budget to the Mayor!

Contact Samuel Sperling at samuelmsperling@yahoo.com.

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