There is no race for the Los Angeles City Controller's office this year — incumbent Ron Galperin has no challenger. Barring an extraterrestrial takeover or zombie apocalypse, he will win a second term on March 7.
Is that a good thing? Maybe. It is, however, unfortunate that Galperin is guaranteed a victory without having the fire of a competitive race to motivate him. He's been an modestly successful controller, keeping the office running smoothly, and has had a few small victories and thankfully no scandals. But he certainly hasn't used the job to its full potential.
The office of City Controller is a strange creature, part insider, part watchdog. The controller's office handles the city's checkbook and makes sure its thousands of workers get paid. But it also has the extraordinarily useful authority to conduct financial and management audits, issue reports and recommend policy and procedural changes to make the city work better. Lacking any legislative power, the controller has two ways to push his agenda: by working with other city leaders, or by hectoring them publicly. Galperin hasn't made great use of either of these routes, and as a result his audits and recommendations at times fall flat.
That may also be because he uses his audits so narrowly, it's like fixating on one diseased tree in a forest that's dying.
Here are a few examples: He identified and mapped land the city owns, but he didn't take the obvious next step to chart out a strategy for financial management of that land. He audited two nonprofit organizations set up by the Department of Water and Power but left unexamined the agency's $67.5 million overbilling fiasco that impacted thousands of people. And just last month he launched a review of the city's homeless encampment policies, when he could have been laying the groundwork for the larger efforts to curb homelessness by auditing the city's past homelessness programs.
The Editorial Board assessed Galperin's performance in 2015 and gave him a B-. It was a grade that spoke of both his performance and our belief in his potential. We thought he could do better and think bigger, and we still do. There are hopeful signs that Galperin's next term will be an improvement. He's made some pivotal staff changes and has promised to make greater use of his soap box. As the public's advocate, his voice should be out there on the big issues facing the city.
Angelenos are about to hand Galperin an unchallenged second term. We hope that by the end of those 5 ½ years it will be clear to them why he deserved it.