Angelenos Pay More Than They Should for the City Services They Get

My time is up; I’ll say “Good-bye”

But I can’t go til you’ve read why

The cost of government is so high

It’s important to understand that government agencies are public service organizations. In Los Angeles, City government provides an incredibly varied combination of services, including police protection, fire prevention and library services. It conducts municipal elections, cares for the elderly, maintains parks, paves streets, collects taxes, controls unlicensed animals, enforces building codes, supports cultural activities, administers the civil service system, etc.

It’s also important to know that, like other service organizations, Government agencies are labor intensive. The services they provide are delivered by real, live employees. And like other service organizations, government agencies spend a very large part of their annual budget for employees — for salaries, benefits and pensions.

In City government, for example, the budget originally proposed for the current fiscal year called for the total expenditure of $6.7 billion dollars. Of that total, almost 60 percent was for employee-related expenditures ($750 million for pensions/retirements, $509 million for benefits and $2.6 billion for salaries). Although these figures have probably changed during the past 10 months, it’s still true that employees are the City’s most expensive resource!

The Mayor’s proposed budget authorized the employment of 32,802 employees in 34 budgetary departments. Together, those 34 departments received a total appropriation of $3.1 billion dollars, of which $2.7 billion was for salaries. That means the average budgetary department in City government was expected to spend 87 percent of its total appropriation just for salaries. Again, while the figures may have changed, they still confirm that employees are every department’s most expensive resource.

Employees are, in fact, the City’s most expensive resource. But that’s not apparent to the politicians responsible for civil service. They seem unaware of the link between human resource management and workforce productivity. They don’t understand that effective management of employee performance can cut costs and enhance service. And frankly, they don’t seem all that committed to holding down the cost of City government, or of improving service to the people who pay the bills at City Hall.

The City Council, specifically the Personnel Committee of the Council, has been shamefully derelict in its duty to oversee the personnel function. Chairman Zine has repeatedly refused to investigate credible claims of rule violations by the Personnel Department. He has supported the use of invalid working tests and the use of performance appraisals that are inherently unreliable. More than any other politician — except the Mayor himself — Chairman Zine is responsible for dumbing-down the City’s civil service system.

And Mayor Villaraigosa? From his first day on the throne, Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa (Marv) pretended that he’s not responsible for civil service. He spent a good part of his first year in office trying to seize control of the City Schools. Then he was out campaigning for a Presidential candidate. Now, he’s just announced that for his final two years, he’s going to focus on the schools again. In the meantime, the City’s civil service system is in the ditch. And the “structural deficit” he reported in his first budget message is still there.

What I don’t understand about this sorry mess is that Angelenos seem willing to tolerate it. Don’t they know they’re being screwed by their self-serving leaders? Why aren’t they out in the streets?

Who will remind the Mayor and Council that their mission is, not to advance themselves, but to serve the people of Los Angeles? Who will persuade them that dedicated, career employees are the key to good government? And who will inspire employees to accept that role — to give their best to the City?

Contact Samuel Sperling at samuelmsperling@yahoo.com.