New Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti started down the list of department heads reapplying for their jobs Tuesday. The first interview: Fire Chief Brian Cummings.
After taking office earlier this month, Garcetti asked the top manager from each of the city’s 35 agencies and departments to meet him and make the case to keep their job.
Garcetti has said that some probably won’t be rehired. But, despite the mayor’s past criticism of the fire chief, his spokesman argued against reading too much into Cummings’ spot at the front of the line.
“I don't attribute any meaning to who goes first and who goes last,” said spokesman Yusef Robb. “It's a juggling act of the mayor's schedule and 35 department heads’ schedules.”
Garcetti has said he expects managers to develop numeric goals that better measure their unit’s true impact on citizens and provide a roadmap for reform.
“Too often in city government, people view their job as a banal function as opposed to what’s happening out on the street,” Robb said. “Less important is what you have done, but how are you intending on reorienting your department?”
A decision on which managers stay and which go could still be two or more months away and will follow an interview with each and consultation with other city leaders, Robb said. There is no plan for how announcements will be made, he added.
Cummings met with the mayor starting at 2:30 p.m. , Robb said. Cummings has struggled to restore confidence in his management of the 3,500-employee Fire Department since fire officials admitted last year to overstating response times, making it appear that rescuers arrived faster than they actually did.
A task force of experts concluded that officials charged with crunching numbers were poorly qualified and that previous LAFD data analysis "should not be relied upon."
Times investigations found delays in processing 911 calls and summoning the nearest medical rescuers from other jurisdictions, as well as wide gaps in response times in different parts of the city.
Many of those problems have been attributed to the department’s often outdated technology. Members of the city Fire Commission, the county’s Civil Grand Jury and the City Council have called for a sweeping overhaul of the department’s systems.
Expensive upgrades are already in the works, including the installation of GPS devices on rescue vehicles, the replacement of the 911 call center’s faulty dispatch database -- which has crashed repeatedly in recent weeks -- and fixes to the alarm system that alerts rescuers at the department’s 106 fire stations.
The department is also developing a new data analysis unit, modeled on the LAPD’s highly-touted team.
Garcetti, who has pointed to technology as a key route to improved city services, will have to decide if he thinks Cummings is the right leader to manage the change.
During his campaign, the mayor criticized the fire chief's leadership, questioned the reasoning behind a hotly debated ambulance staffing change, disagreed with a plan to restructure the agency's 911 call center and asked the department to produce a multiyear “restoration plan.”
Earlier this year, Cummings drafted an ambitious plan to seek additional money from the council to restore about 300 agency positions eliminated in recent years. But he quickly withdrew it, saying it needed more work.
In an interview with The Times two weeks ago, Cummings said he would like to remain chief until at least 2018. He said he wants to lead the LAFD to improved management of its growing number of medical rescues, which now account for more than 80% of 911 calls for help.
He also said he wants to ensure that the department remains ready to respond to less-frequent challenges such as earthquakes, fires and man-made disasters.
“It’s a very delicate balance of competing priorities,” Cummings said of the task. “I’d like to be that person.”
Cummings was appointed chief by then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2011. He has more than 30 years of service with the LAFD and last year earned nearly $300,000 as its top officer, city records show.
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