Will the New Year Bring Civil Service Reform to Los Angeles?

Everyone in Los Angeles knows City government costs too much. And no one thinks government works as well as it should. But what, exactly, must be done to make City Service more efficient, more effective and more responsive?

As a former city employee, I’d say Mayor Villaraigosa must pay closer attention to the way City employees are managed. After all, about 60 percent of the City’s budget goes to support employees. Yet, like employees in the private sector, City employees are typically less productive than they could be.

To raise workforce productivity in City Service, the Mayor must address two kinds of problems: the continued use of archaic personnel practices and the all-too-common attitude that “working for the City is like any other job.”

Employee selection practices currently used in City departments go way back to 1959. They ignore Federal EEOC Guidelines, affront common sense, and violate civil service regulations. They don’t accurately reflect what probationers do on the job, and they’re too subjective to be used as employment tests. They are not used effectively to keep unfit employees off the City payroll.

Fortunately, problems related to archaic personnel practices can be fixed easily and without additional staff or funding. If made properly, corrections required by Charter Sections 540 and 541 will enhance workforce productivity.

But Mayor Villaraigosa must also fix another type of problem: getting everyone in City government — at all levels — to work with diligence and dedication on behalf of the people of Los Angeles.

Working for the City is not just another job; it’s a position of trust. Incumbents of City positions are paid with public funds. They have a duty to give their best to the people who pay their salaries. And with rare exceptions, City employees do, indeed, earn their pay — they do whatever they are expected to do.

While the situation may now be different, based on my experience I believe the skills, energy and initiative City employees bring to the job are not fully utilized. Moreover, it’s my view that City supervisors are not trained to manage employee performance. They don’t require employees to meet job-specific performance standards. They don’t encourage development; they don’t invite participation.

Restoring the City’s civil service system won’t be easy, but it is do-able. And no one is better equipped than Mayor Villaraigosa to get it done. Of all the officials in City government, he’s uniquely positioned to fire-up the troops—to challenge them, “The people have been good to us; let’s make Civil Service work for them!”

Contact Samuel at samuelmsperling@yahoo.com

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