Opinion
Get Opinion in your inbox -- sign up for our weekly newsletter
Opinion Endorsements

Ron Galperin for L.A. controller

In the five-man race for Los Angeles controller, the best-known candidate is also the one who's had the best view of city government. That would be Dennis Zine, who is finishing his 12th and final year representing the City Council's 3rd District after working for three decades in the Los Angeles Police Department. But two other candidates from outside City Hall have put forward more compelling cases for their election. Ron Galperin has worked with the city and county governments to improve collections and eliminate loopholes. Cary Brazeman has been a high-profile critic of city managers, mounting pressure campaigns against several flawed city initiatives. Brazeman offers the more far-reaching agenda, but Galperin's training and experience make him the candidate more likely to turn his recommendations into real improvements in city government. For that reason, The Times endorses Galperin.

The controller once stood as the city's last line of defense against waste, fraud and abuse, able to refuse to sign any check he or she deemed improper. The charter reforms of 1999, however, broadened the office's purview while trimming its authority. The controller lost the ability to block payments but gained the power to audit the performance of city departments as well as their finances. Former Controller Laura Chick used the expanded authority to highlight the need for change in city government's core functions, including its approaches to gang violence, fires and disasters.

Today, with the city facing large and persistent deficits, Los Angeles needs an energetic controller who can not only expose waste and fraud but also find ways to get more out of every dollar the city spends. That requires someone with both an accountant's eye for detail and a reformer's creativity — an ability to spot problems and inefficiencies even in departments with no obvious dysfunction. It also requires tough-minded independence.

ENDORSEMENTS: Los Angeles City Elections 2013

The controller can't force city officials to do anything, however. The only cudgel the office holds is its ability to make headlines, and as Chick demonstrated, that's not necessarily enough to provoke a response from the mayor or City Council. Zine argues that the relationships he's built inside city government would give him a unique ability to turn the recommendations of his audits into action. But while Zine has been a fine advocate for his district, he hasn't been a prominent critic of the financial practices that have put the city in its current fix. And there's little in his service on the council to suggest he has the analytical aptitude for improving the bureaucracy. His pursuit of the controller's job appears to reflect his desire to remain in office rather than a fascination with the nuts and bolts of city operations.

The other four candidates in the race have yet to hold elective office, although not necessarily for lack of trying. Two of them — Jeff Bornstein, a small-businessman in Winnetka who sells audio-video equipment, and Ankur Patel, a graduate student at Cal State University Northridge — are long shots who aren't up to the job's demands, although Patel's proposal to enlist citizen activists to scrutinize city departments is intriguing. Both Galperin and Brazeman, on the other hand, seem ready not just to fulfill the controller's responsibilities but to do it well.

Galperin, an attorney in Century City, has been a longtime critic of inefficient and ineffective city practices that waste or fail to collect millions of dollars. His critiques landed him a spot as chairman of the Ad Hoc Commission on Revenue Efficiency, which the council established in 2010 to look for shortcomings in the city's collections. It produced nine reports in a year and a half of work, identifying more than $100 million in annual revenue and savings from improvements in city purchases, permits and a slew of other functions. Galperin's persistence helped persuade officials to put a number of the commission's recommendations into practice, such as its call for an inspector general overseeing city collections. But other proposals hit a dead end in the council's Audits and Governmental Efficiency Committee, which Zine chairs.

VIDEO: Interviews with L.A.'s mayoral candidates

The Times endorsed Galperin four years ago when he ran for an open seat in the council's 5th District, noting his "keen interest in improving accountability and fiscal prudence in City Hall." His advisory work for the city and county shows Galperin to be detail-oriented, driven and imaginative, especially when it comes to the revenue side of the ledger. His main weakness is that he's focused too often on revenue, overlooking the controller's broader ability to push for better city services.

Brazeman, who runs a marketing company on the Westside, recognizes just how wide the controller's franchise became when voters adopted the new charter. His vision for the office is by far the most ambitious: He sees it as a way to prod departments to make the city a better place to live and work. Brazeman says he would use the controller's performance audits to try to streamline business permits, fix streets, improve how the police and fire departments allocate their resources and hold down salaries and benefits for city workers.

For someone with no experience in local government, that's a big lift. But Brazeman has shown as an activist in recent years that he's adept at analyzing city operations and finances. He was an early critic of the Fire Department's lagging response times, and his warnings about the city's exposure to risk on the downtown stadium project led to important changes in the financing.

Brazeman is right that the city's financial problems are too severe to be solved just by collecting revenue more efficiently, and that the controller has an important role to play in improving the day-in, day-out operations of city departments. But an effective controller also needs to be focused and persistent to bring about the changes the office's audits demand. Otherwise, he'll be little more than a headline-grabbing gadfly. In our judgment, Galperin is the best choice on that score, and the candidate most likely to develop an effective working relationship with the departments whose performance the controller scrutinizes. The Times urges a vote for Ron Galperin for controller.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • This one simple trick can save L.A. taxpayers time and money

    This one simple trick can save L.A. taxpayers time and money

    It’s the kind of thing that winds up in late-night comedy monologues:

  • Smoking and vaping bills in Sacramento flirt with trampling rights

    Smoking and vaping bills in Sacramento flirt with trampling rights

    Sometimes, it's good to be unfriendly. California's hostility toward smoking — it was the first to ban smoking in public indoor spaces, and many municipalities have made it illegal in certain outdoor venues as well — has helped give the state the second-lowest smoking rate in the nation (behind...

  • New U.S. policy of little help to Central American families who live in fear

    New U.S. policy of little help to Central American families who live in fear

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced recently that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would finally discontinue long-term detention of families who have established eligibility for asylum. He went on to say: “Our larger hope is that Central American families will heed our repeated...

  • The hidden casualties of war: civilian frontline workers

    The hidden casualties of war: civilian frontline workers

    Driving on the New York State Thruway one morning in early 2013, my breathing slowed almost to a halt and I saw stars. As the needle inched up toward 65 miles per hour, I realized I was having another panic attack. I had them almost daily then, ever since the year before when a bomb had exploded...

  • Jailing fewer at the border

    Jailing fewer at the border

    The Department of Homeland Security announced recently that it would release hundreds of mothers and children who are seeking political asylum, so that they can await their hearings in freedom rather than in detention facilities. That was a welcome move, but the government should go further and...

  • Alexander von Humboldt: The man who made nature modern

    Alexander von Humboldt: The man who made nature modern

    His contemporaries considered Alexander von Humboldt the most famous man in the world after Napoleon, and Thomas Jefferson called him “one of the greatest ornaments of the age.” There are more plants, animals, minerals and places named after Humboldt than any other person. In California alone,...

Comments
Loading