Questions About the City’s New Fraud Policy

Recently the Los Angeles City Council voted to get tough on “Waste, Fraud, and Abuse.” No longer will City employees just be expected to report such wrongdoing; they’ll be required to report it. Moreover, employees will no longer have the option of taking their concerns to one of three City agencies; they’ll now have to take their concerns to the Waste, Fraud, and Abuse Unit in the Controller’s Office.

According to Councilman Dennis P. Zine, who authored the new policy, adopting this measure is the first step in trying to bring some closure to a continual saga of misconduct in City government.

Zine may have had reference to recent news stories about wrongdoing in the Department of Animal Services, the Department of Building and Safety, the Housing Department, The Convention Center, the Community Development Department, the Transportation Department, the Seventh Council District, and—most recently—the theft of guns from the Police Department.

But if Zine, who wants to be the next City Controller, really wants to bring closure to wrongdoing at City Hall, he could take a giant step toward that goal by turning himself in—by admitting that for the past six years he’s been Mayor Villaraigosa’s active partner in a cynical, illegal attack on the City’s personnel system.

Until recently, Zine was Chairman of the Council’s Personnel Committee. Abusing the powers of his office, he helped the Mayor dismantle the City’s established personnel system. With no authority—but with Zine’s support—the Mayor stifled the Board of Civil Service Commissioners, claimed its powers for his office, and declared that the head of each City department, bureau and office would be accountable only to him.

As this column is written, the two Charter Sections that describe the City’s public employment system are not being enforced. Section 540 describes the duties of the Personnel Department. It tasks that Department to administer the civil service system. And Section 541 tasks the Board of Civil Service Commissioners to make and enforce the civil service rules and to oversee the civil service system.

But it’s precisely that civil service system the Mayor and Councilman Zine have been trying to change. They don’t want the Personnel Department to administer the system. They don’t want the Board to make and enforce civil service rules and they sure don’t want the Board to oversee the employment practices of all City agencies. They know it’s wrong to change the Charter without a vote of the people; they’re violating the Rule of Law, and they know it.

Zine says he wants to end a “continual saga of misconduct” at City Hall. And he seems to believe that if employees would just blow the whistle on their boss that may help. Well, his proposal would provide some protection against retaliation. It might, in fact, serve a useful purpose. For that, Zine deserves a pat on the back.

But while the Councilman does a bit of image-polishing, the people of Los Angeles should remember that, as Mayor Batman’s Boy Robin, Chairman Zine was actively involved in a criminal effort to make over the City’s civil service system without a vote of the electorate. For that, both the Batman and his Boy Wonder should be thrown out of office!

Contact Sam Sperling at samuelmsperling@yahoo.com.