The Politicians at City Hall Are at Least as Self-serving as the Politicians in Bell

Two weeks ago, Angelenos learned about a huge scandal in the tiny California city of Bell. The scandal was hatched when the City Manager and the part-time Council agreed on a plan to avoid state salary limits for elected officials.

To implement their self-serving scheme, a special election was scheduled, with just one ballot measure. Bell’s voters were told Measure A would give their city greater control over its future. They were not told it could facilitate the looting of Bell’s treasury.

By a vote of 336 to 54, Measure A passed, and very soon four of the five Councilmen were earning $100,000 a year. Then they gave the City Manager and his Assistant huge pay raises. Moreover, a new police chief was hired at an outrageously inflated salary.

Eventually, the people of Bell discovered they’d been snookered. They marched on City Hall and demanded that the top three top officials resign. But resignations did not put the scandal to rest. The three over-paid officials could now become over-paid retirees for the rest of their lives.

The salary scandal in Bell is not going away. In fact, what started out as a horrible example of self-serving politics is now being investigated to see if criminal action, like conflict of interest and/or voter fraud, may have been involved.

Bell is now getting national attention. And all Angelenos applaud the fine work done by the media organization(s) which exposed the scandal and kept it in the headlines. At the same time, there may be some who wonder why the Bell scandal gets so much media attention, while the lawless attack on the city’s civil service system goes unnoticed.

In Los Angeles, civil service goes back a hundred years. While it’s never been called “efficient,” civil service has given the city a stable, reasonably honest public service.

Yet, since 1993, civil service in Los Angeles has been under attack. Mayor Richard J. Riordan trampled the Charter, shielded department heads from oversight by the Board of Civil Service Commissioners, and thwarted the enforcement of civil service rules.

In effect, Mayor Riordan and his successors turned the city’s civil service system into forty-some departmental systems. Sadly, all those departments cling to archaic personnel practices. All mismanage their most valuable asset. And all waste tax dollars.

Meanwhile, Angelenos were kept in the dark. Mayor Villaraigosa refused to talk about his responsibility for civil service. The Council denied its duty to oversee the City’s personnel function. And department heads couldn’t really be expected to put their jobs on the line by acknowledging the Mayor’s refusal to apply his management authority.

And the media organizations? Well, by their silence, they’ve allowed City Hall to treat the public like mushrooms—to keep people in the dark, covered with bandini.

What Los Angeles needs now is a leader who’ll put an end to the unlawful, 17-year attack on the city’s civil service system. But first we need media organizations that will stand up to City Hall—media organizations that will expose the self-serving politicians who, whatever their motives may have been, corrupted the city’s employment system.