Could the City’s Budget Gap Be Closed Without Cutting City Services?

There’s good news and good news about the city’s budget gap. The good news is the mayor and council have finally acknowledged their excesses, and are planning to do what must be done—no matter how much it hurts everyone else—to control their excessive spending.

The other good news is that it may be possible to close the budget gap without cutting city services—and without cutting the jobs of the 4,000 employees who deliver those services.

According to a report prepared by the city’s Office of Finance, the money our leaders say they need to cover their excessive spending could be collected from delinquent taxpayers!

Consider: Together, the 108 top debtors on the Finance Office list owe the city over $131 million. By itself, that would go a long way toward closing the anticipated gap in next year’s budget. And it’s entirely possible that if all delinquent taxpayers in Los Angeles were required to pay what they owe the city, the mayor and council could rethink the misguided service cuts they’ve proposed.

While effective tax collection wouldn’t solve the current problem, it would give the mayor and council a whole year to consider how the city’s civil service system can be made more efficient—how the City’s workforce can be made more productive.

With a whole year to think about it, city officials—and the people of Los Angeles—will be asked to focus on certain relevant facts:

  • The Personnel Department is vested with the power and duty to administer the civil service system. Yet, Personnel’s General Manager seems not to understand that, as the City’s highest-paid HR authority, she’s expected to be a force for effective performance management.
  • The Board of Civil Service Commissioners has the power and duty to make and enforce the rules, to investigate rule violations and to oversee the civil service system. But the Board has been stifled; its role has been reduced, and it powers have been claimed by the Mayor’s office.
  • The City Council is duty-bound to become fully informed of the business of City government, and to oversee all City functions. But the Council’s Personnel Committee has repeatedly refused to investigate personnel practices that mismanage human resources and waste tax dollars.
  • As the city’s Chief Executive Officer, the mayor has management authority over virtually all city departments. Regrettably, he’s been too busy with other matters to ensure that the city’s most valuable resource is managed effectively—that the civil service system serve the people!

Each of these distressing failures can be—must be—confronted. The city’s civil service system can be—will be—rebuilt as an excellent public employment system. The new civil service system in Los Angeles will honor the rule of law, it will feature state-of-the-art personnel practices, and it will be directed by HR professionals experienced in the management of employee performance.

Future “Trouble-Finder” col-umns will suggest ways to make the civil service system more efficient—ways to make the city’s workforce more productive. And as always, reader comments will be welcome!

samuelmsperling@yahoo.com (626) 576-8396