Times Staff Writer

A City Council committee took the first steps Wednesday afternoon toward dealing with the issues raised in a Personnel Department report strongly critical of the personnel practices and policies of the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department under general manager Fred Croton.

Councilwoman Joy Picus, chairwoman of the Personnel and Labor Relations Committee, and Councilman Joel Wachs gave initial approval to two of the three recommendations made by the Personnel Department. While the committee's action must be voted on by the City Council, Picus and Wachs also suggested that the personnel staff follow up and report on Croton's performance within 90 days of council action. As for the third recommendation--that the Personnel Department specify what courses Croton "shall attend to improve his skills in the areas of conflict resolution, communication and interpersonal relations"--the committee asked the department to return in two weeks with specific courses, or as Picus put it, "a menu selection of courses for Mr. Croton to choose from."

Richard Marcoullier, assistant executive director of the Engineers and Architects Assn., the union that is representing Rod Sakai, whose termination in March, 1985, prompted the council-ordered investigation, said: "It is a shame that a general manager (has to take) management courses. It is shame that this has happened."

But Picus and Wachs said management difficulties are not limited to the Cultural Affairs Department, and may be worse in the private sector.

The first Personnel Department recommendation involves putting into practice a series of procedures to improve communication within the Cultural Affairs Department. Those procedures include "initiating a schedule of regular staff meetings with center directors and coordinators to disseminate information . . . obtain feedback . . . and to promote unity for a better sense of the department as a single entity."

Croton, a mayoral appointee who took over the department in January, 1981, told the committee he is working on these procedures.

The second recommendation instructed Croton "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. . . ."

At first Croton appeared to object to that language, saying "nothing had been corroborated" regarding his conduct. He said it was like asking: "Do you still beat your best friend?"

However, Picus and Wachs insisted that that recommendation stay, after Jan Smith, a Personnel Department representative, said the report provided confidentiality to those who responded to its questionnaire and those who were interviewed.

The committee, which also includes Councilman Marvin Braude, will consider the Croton matter again in two weeks.

Sakai, who had been given one day's notice, had worked for the city for nearly eight years on various cultural programs. A Japanese-American, he alleged ethnic discrimination and claimed that Croton had been arbitrary in his treatment of employees.

Croton and Sakai attended the committee meeting, sitting in the first row of the audience, a seat apart, but did not speak to each other. Sakai, who had been unemployed for more than a year, is working as a $10-an-hour summer employee on a murals program for the City of Long Beach.

The investigation, which took 11 months and resulted in a 50-page report, found "widespread dissatisfaction" and "a high level of distrust" among employees regarding Croton's personnel performance. No specific evidence of discrimination was reported.

Taking a cue from Croton, who had asked that a personnel adviser be added to his staff so that problems wouldn't "fall through the cracks," Marcoullier recommended that a position be created for Sakai.

The committee referred the addition of a personnel expert to the City Administrator's Office, and did not consider a job for Sakai.

Later Picus said the Sakai case is being reviewed by the Civil Service Commission. She also noted a section of the Personnel Department report on Sakai's job performance, which stated: "Mr. Croton gave him instructions and directions as to how to carry out his duties. However Mr. Sakai repeatedly operated in a manner that was not in compliance with those instructions."

Asked how relevant that was, considering it is Croton's personnel performance that is under investigation, Picus replied: "Croton is the boss. That's all there is to it."

Marcoullier brushed aside a committee role in obtaining a job for Sakai. "It's up to the Civil Service Commission--and the courts," he said.

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