Performance Standards for City Government

It’s not widely known, but the people of Los Angeles have set high performance standards for City government. When they approved a new Charter in 1999, the voters declared, “Every City office and department and every City official and employee is expected to work with diligence and dedication on behalf of the people of Los Angeles.”

These standards are established in Charter Section 103. That whole Section should be required reading for everyone, at every level, in the City organization.

This column focuses attention on the call for officials and employees to work for the people. It supports the view that everyone in City Service is responsible for what he or she does on the job — that everyone is accountable to the people.

Consider. Based on the performance standards established in Section 103, Angelenos expect Mayor Villaraigosa to honor his Oath of Office, to uphold the Charter, to manage the budget and to make civil service work for them.

Sadly, the mayor has not met these standards. His dismal performance record has been carefully documented. Increasingly, the people (including early supporters) are openly critical. They’re disappointed; they feel let-down. But so far, no one’s talking about a march on City Hall. Hopefully, he’ll use the time he has left to turn things around.

Based on Section 203 standards, Angelenos expect the Board of Civil Service Commissioners to do what the Charter directs it to do. They expect the Board to make/enforce the rules, to investigate rule violations and to monitor the civil service system.

But since 1993, the Board hasn’t been permitted to do what the people expect it to do.

It’s been handcuffed, its role has been downsized and its powers have been usurped. Three mayors — Riordan, Hahn, and Villaraigosa — are responsible for this lawless action. They must be held to account for what they did.

But in light of the Nuremberg Principles, the Board must also be held to account. It could have prevented this illegal power-grab. The Commissioners could have resigned en masse, they could have called a press conference, they could have exposed the plan to subject the civil service system to a radical make-over. Regrettably, Commissioners put loyalty to their Mayor ahead of service to the people. For that they are accountable.

Based on the performance standards in Section 103, the people of Los Angeles expect the Personnel Department to “administer the civil service system.” That’s what Charter Section 540 directs Personnel to do. But Personnel’s General Manager, Maggie Whelan, appears to be unwilling to do that. Thus, instead of administering the selection of civil service employees, Maggie lets department managers do her work. And instead of administering the evaluation of employee performance, Maggie also turns that activity over to the department managers.

Maggie accepts her annual salary of $220,000, but refuses to do the work she’s paid to do. Some would call that a theft of public funds, but to date there have been no formal charges filed. She does work hard, but it’s not always on behalf of the people. Indeed, she’s been a willing partner for three mayors who sought to dismantle the Board of Civil Service Commissioners. Maggie must be held to account for her job-related failures.

Based on Section 103, Angelenos expect the City Council, at the very least, to discharge its Charter-mandated duty. That duty, spelled out in Section 242(b), “is to become fully informed of the business of the City so as to oversee all the functions of the City government…”

But with respect to the City’s personnel function, the Council has allowed its own Personnel Committee to dismiss documented claims of gross human resource mismanagement. It has actually allowed Committee Chairman Zine to approve the use of employment tests that are invalid, and to accept annual evaluations that are inherently unreliable. As a body, the Council has clearly failed to meet established standards. For that, it must be held accountable.

The standards set for City government are not difficult to understand: everyone in City Service must work with diligence and dedication, and they must do that for the people.

You can contact Samuel Sperling at samuelmsperling@yahoo.com.

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