PROBE CRITICIZES PERSONNEL PRACTICES OF CITY CULTURAL AFFAIRS DEPARTMENT : Manager Fred Croton Says He’ll Deal With Issues Raised in Report to City Council

Times Staff Writer

After an intensive 11-month investigation, the city Personnel Department has issued a 50-page report critical of the personnel practices of the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department under general manager Fred Croton. The report, which also looks into alleged discriminatory activities in the department, has been sent for review to the City Council, which ordered it last May 29.

However, no specific evidence of discrimination was discovered.

The findings of the investigation among present and former employees suggest:

--"Widespread dissatisfaction among employees concerning the administration of a variety of personnel practices in the department.”


--"A high level of distrust among employees concerning the general manager’s motives and actions. . . . The general manager has aroused a great deal of suspicion and animosity among employees. Eighty percent of those interviewed believed there was discontent among employees, and 34.8% of those who cited a cause, named the general manager or an action by him.”

--"A strong perception among employees that favoritism and other non-job-related factors are the basis for decision-making” within the department.

The report released on Friday also found that “some employees believe that there is discrimination within the department.”

Nevertheless, those who responded to the Personnel Department’s questionnaire “rated personal favoritism as the main cause of personnel problems, while discrimination was rated the least likely cause. Personal favoritism was named as a factor in such actions as employment decisions, assignment changes, enforcement of personnel policies and changes in reporting relationships.”


Between 1981 and 1985, the report stated, the department’s regular (full-time) work force declined from 49 to 45. “During this period the representation of females rose from 57.1% to 64.4%; representation of blacks rose from 16.3% to 17.8%; and representation of Asians rose from 6.1% to 6.7%. During this same period, employment of Hispanics dropped from 22.2% to 11.1%.”

Croton could not be reached directly for comment, but issued a statement through his office at City Hall. “I am pleased to have been cleared of all specific discrimination charges leveled against me,” the statement said. “I intend to work with the Personnel Department to develop systems for dealing with personnel matters which they have raised in their report.”

Meanwhile the Personnel Department has recommended that the City Council:

--"Instruct the general manager to desist from behavior or comments that might reasonably be construed as inconsistent with the city’s policies of equal employment opportunity and non-discrimination.”


--"Direct the general manager,” among other procedures, to initiate “regular staff meetings with center directors and coordinators to disseminate information on the department, to obtain feedback on operations, and to promote unity. . . .”

--"Direct the Personnel Department to identify specific management/supervisory development courses/seminars which the general manager . . . shall attend to improve his skills in the areas of conflict, resolution, communication and interpersonal relations.”

The investigation of Croton’s department was prompted last year by the termination, with one day’s notice, of Rod Sakai, who had worked for the city for nearly eight years on various cultural programs. He was dismissed 13 months ago just as his 240-day “emergency appointment” to an upgraded position as an art curator was about to run out. Among other responsibilities, Sakai directed the city’s murals program and showings at the Bridge Gallery at City Hall.

In city papers and interviews Sakai, a Japanese-American, alleged ethnic discrimination. He also asserted that Croton had been arbitrary in his treatment of employees. As an “exempt” employee without civil-service standing, Sakai did not have job protection. He is still unemployed, supporting himself through personal loans and occasional free-lance work, he said.


Asked for comment on the report, Sakai, who was reached at his home in San Gabriel, said: “Sounds right on the nose.”

The report also said the staff could find “no evidence” that Sakai was “not appointed as an art curator and subsequently not offered employment as an art instructor because of his national origin.” John J. Driscoll, general manager of the Personnel Department, said that there will be a separate report issued on the matter.

One of the tiniest departments in the city bureaucracy, in terms of both personnel and budget, Cultural Affairs at last count had 45 full-time employees. About a dozen centers and programs come under the department’s jurisdiction, from the Municipal Art Gallery in Barnsdall Park to Watts Tower Arts Center and the McGroarty Cultural Arts Center in Tujunga.

In carrying out the council’s directive, the Personnel Department mailed 899 questionnaires to current and former employees. Of these, 112 were returned. Follow-up interviews, the report noted, were conducted with 87 people. The report also cited concerns about confidentiality and difficulty in finding people.


“The information from the questionnaires and interviews has not been subject to cross-verification,” the report said, “because such action might expose individual employees and breach our assurances of confidentiality. However, the fact that certain perceptions are held by significant numbers of employees is an indication that there are concerns which should be addressed.”

Driscoll told The Times that “our interest was trying to find out what was going on in discrimination and personnel practice . . . what people’s perceptions are. We tried to deal with it in a responsible, comprehensive fashion. We were not doing a poll. . . .

“We did not find specific evidence of discrimination based on race or sex (or other such classifications),” he added.

On the discrimination issue, the report stated:


“Of those interviewed, 14.7% of regular employees and 30% of terminated employees indicated they had been treated differently because of sex, including sexual harassment, race (and other such groupings). Thirty-nine percent of regular employees and 40% of terminated employees reported that they knew of employees who had been treated differently for one or more of the above reasons.

“It is particularly disturbing,” the report went on, “that employees volunteered comments during the interviews and on their questionnaires, which related discriminatory statements and actions by the general manager and other responsible supervisory staff. We have not attempted to verify these allegations . . . because to do so would expose the employees in many instances, and breach our assurances of confidentiality.”

On the issue of distrust, the report stated:

“Some employees believe that the general manager has a vendetta against employees who were hired before him; others believe he has used personal favoritism to benefit his friends and allies; while still others believe he lacks the management or interpersonal skills necessary for his position. Employees reported outbursts, personal attacks and statements by the general manager which have undermined their confidence in his fairness and impartiality. . . .


“Conversely,” the report added, “it is also evident that some employees have developed negative perceptions of the general manager without benefit of full information about the situations which have caused them concern.”

The next stop for the report is the Council’s Personnel and Labor Relations Committee, chaired by Councilwoman Joy Picus.

Picus told The Times that because of scheduling conflicts she does not expect to discuss the report in committee until June.

Asked about the report, Picus said: “It makes very specific recommendations as to what Fred Croton needs to do to clean up his act. It would seem to me the committee would ask him to follow through.


“My assessment of the report is that he’s a poor manager and poor administrator. It does say he does not discriminate. My approach would be to give the guy a (second) chance and monitor his performance. . . . We’ve had managers who’ve done worse.”

The report also went to Mayor Tom Bradley, who hired Croton in December, 1980. A spokesman for the mayor, who is seeking the governorship, said Bradley was out of town campaigning.