Is Mayor Villaraigosa Really Trying to Wreck the City’s Civil Service System?

Readers of this column should know I don’t have any inside information about the mayor’s views on civil service. This column reflects only what I’ve learned in roughly thirty years as a Trouble-Finder at City Hall.

Here’s what I know. When Antonio R. Villaraigosa was elected mayor of Los Angeles, Section 541 of the City Charter (which vests the Board of Civil Service Commissioners with rule-making, enforcement, and oversight powers) was being quietly ignored. Now, five-and-a-half years later, that charter section is still quietly ignored.

When Villaraigosa was elected Mayor, Civil Service Rule 1.26 (which defines the probationary period as “the working test period”) was routinely trampled. Today, that rule is still routinely trampled.

When the mayor was elected five-and-a-half years ago, appointing authorities rated all probationary employees (regardless of their assigned duties and responsibilities) on a universal list of personal traits and work habits. Today, appointing authorities still cling to that pathetic, trait-rating practice.

In one department, probationers are evaluated on such undefined factors as neatness, character, loyalty, temperament, and common sense. Raters define—and set their own standards for—each factor.

In another department, a single trait list is used to evaluate probationers in over 100 classifications, including fingerprint identification experts, delivery drivers, clerks, personnel analysts, auto painters, and police psychologists. When asked about this practice, the department said the matter should be discussed with the personnel department.

Recently, personnel was asked why this practice was still permitted in city service. The answer given was that the general manager of the personnel department doesn’t have full control over everything—that she reports to Villaraigosa.

Does that mean the mayor’s responsible for the mess in employee selection? Well that’s a conclusion the charter does seem to support. It says the Mayor shall be the Chief Executive Officer of the City. It gives the mayor management authority over virtually all departments, agencies and appointed offices of the city. So why does Villaraigosa permit the continued use of personnel practices that wreck the city’s civil service system? Why does he let appointing authorities mismanage their employees and force Angelenos to pay more than they should for the city services they get?

When Villaraigosa was sworn in as the mayor of Los Angeles, the city’s $4 billion workforce was not well-managed. But during the past five-and-a-half years, proposals to improve performance management have been arbitrarily rejected.

It’s time for the mayor to abandon the Riordan plan for a “new” civil service system in Los Angeles. It’s time for him to follow the charter—to restore the Board of Civil Service Commissioners—to rebuild public trust in city government.

Please e-mail Samuel at samuelmsperling@yahoo.com

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