Civil Service: An Issue Mayoral Candidates Must Address

“The Board of Civil Service Commissioners shall have the power and duty to make and enforce the civil service rules and to establish and maintain the civil service system in accordance with the civil service provisions of Article X of the Charter.” – Section 541 of the City Charter; it was approved on June 8, 1999.

This Charter Section establishes the Board as a firewall. Its purpose is to keep politics out of the City’s employment system. Section 541 became effective on July 1, 2000; that’s nearly 13 years ago. Incredibly, it has still not been enforced!

To put this 13-year failure-to-enforce in perspective, one needs to consider the three Los Angeles City Mayors who have served under the new Charter.

It all began with Richard J. Riordan. He’d been Mayor for seven years when the new Charter became effective. He was not fond of the City’s civil service system and had his own plans to replace civil service with a “more business-like” service system. When the new Charter included Section 541, Riordan refused to enforce it. He spent his final year in office handcuffing the Civil Service Commission, and turning civil service into a collection of separate City agencies which would be expected to manage themselves. They would be accountable only to the Mayor.

Riordan was succeeded in the Mayor’s Office by James K. Hahn. It was Hahn’s misfortune that he was elected while Los Angeles was fighting off a threat from a portion of the Valley that wanted to leave L.A. to form its own city. To help Hahn defeat that threat and keep Los Angeles together — so the story goes — Riordan “persuaded” him to retain certain of his appointees and to support certain of his practices. In the end, Hahn did not enforce Section 541!

Jimmy Hahn was a one-term Mayor. He was succeeded by former-Mayor Riordan’s favorite candidate: Antonio R. Villaraigosa. For his entire time in office, Villaraigosa supported the Riordan approach to civil service: handcuff the Board, grab its powers for the Mayor’s Office, and ignore its duties. And, oh yes — pretend that City departments are Fortune 500 organizations, capable of managing themselves, so long as they don’t forget who’s Boss!

Well, Villaraigosa will be leaving soon. He’ll be replaced by one of the 8 candidates (you read that right; there are 8 of them) who want to be the next Mayor of Los Angeles. And if any of them plan to follow the Riordan model, I hope he/she/they have the decency to share their plans with the voters BEFORE a single vote is cast. Thirteen years of Charter-bashing is more than enough!

Send your questions and comment to samuelmsperling@yahoo.com.

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