'Rotation' Ritual : L.B. Bureaucrats Play Game of Musical Jobs

Times Staff Writer

On Friday, David Lund was the city's community development director. When he wakes up Monday morning, he'll find himself changed into a different sort of creature altogether--a police officer. Deputy police chief, to be precise.

On Friday, Commander Jerome Lance was the head of the police special investigations division, supervising vice and narcotics units. By Monday, he'll be Mr. Lance--deputy city manager.

Bureaucratic Shuffle

The city bureaucracy is preparing for another round of musical chairs, a shuffle that takes place every six months. About 30 of the 150 administrators--department, division and bureau chiefs--will be temporarily switched to unfamiliar jobs in a 6-year-old ritual known as "rotation."

The labor relations manager will oversee the airport. The airport manager will go to public works. A recreation department administrator will supervise housing programs.

The brainchild of City Manager John Dever, rotation is meant to acquaint administrators with the operations of other branches of the city government. "It develops a systemwide esprit de corps and an understanding of broad policies and programs," Dever said.

It is an adaptation of a common business practice. "I saw it being used successfully by a number of the major national corporations to develop management people and to improve communication," Dever said.

"I thought it would be even more important in government. The reason is, in government, very often people get pigeonholed. You have to wait till somebody dies or retires to move."

Unusual Program

Dever said he is not aware of any other city in the country using rotation so systematically, though many cities occasionally have administrators shift jobs temporarily. He added that the federal government has a senior executive program similar to the Long Beach program.

Still, the results of rotation can be a trifle disconcerting to outsiders. For example, during the next six months, the deputy city manager may occasionally sport the badge and blue uniform of the Long Beach police.

Lance said he wants to be referred to as "mister" rather than "commander" and plans a plainclothes wardrobe during most of his stint on the 13th floor at City Hall. But, he added, "on dress occasions, I probably would wear my uniform. I'm proud of my uniform."

That would be no more strange than circumstances during the summer when the federal government demanded that the city increase the number of Latinos employed by the Recreation Department. A key role in the ensuing negotiations was played by the Long Beach commercial services manager--who is responsible for collecting money due the city, from gas bills to library fines to parking tickets.

Manager on Rotation

The explanation for that was simple. Before last March, the commercial services manager--Henry Taboada--had been the Long Beach affirmative action officer. He was on rotation, away from his personnel department job.

The affirmative action officer, Ellis K. Crow--on rotation from the Planning Department--wasn't as familiar as Taboada with the background of the complaint.

Both men were involved in the resulting agreement with the government.

Such back-and-forth movement is common during a rotation.

"Sometimes it's more difficult to find the right people to talk to, but I wouldn't say it's caused a problem," said Deputy City Manager J. Edward Tewes, who will take a turn with Lund's community development position starting Monday.

Somewhat Voluntary

The program is "both voluntary and not," Tewes said. Managers are asked to give several examples of rotation jobs they would like to try, he said. But the final decision is Dever's.

For example, Tewes said his coming rotation is not a position he requested. "It was something Mr. Dever thought would be a good opportunity for me," Tewes said. "I'm looking forward to it."

There are participants--and affected subordinates--who grumble privately that the program is inconvenient. But the general consensus seems to be that the change is welcome and the experience beneficial.

Some people liked their new jobs so much that they switched permanently. Taboada has remained as commercial services manager. Ralph Kortz, general manager of the Gas Department, took the job when it became open because he had done it before on rotation from his position in the Public Works Department.

Most, however, return to their old jobs after six months.

"The first four, four and a half months was really fun," said Crow of his stint as affirmative action officer. "But when the time came to go back to long-range planning, I was ready," he said.

Then he faced another adjustment. "It was because I was out of the stream of things," he said. "You know, in planning we have . . . reports due that have all these timetables. I had forgotten where I put a lot of stuff. It's amazing how much you can forget in six months, not about the work, but just about the mechanics."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World