Proposed New L.A. Firing Policy Gains Support

Times Staff Writer

Two key Los Angeles City Council committees gave preliminary approval Wednesday to proposed City Charter amendments that could empower the council to fire department heads without the mayor's concurrence.

Presently, a department head may be fired only if the mayor agrees and initiates the removal.

The proposed amendments, which supporters hope to place on the June 7 ballot, would also include the creation of an "executive service" whereby all future department heads would be stripped of most civil service job protection provisions.

Current general managers would not be affected.

Meeting in joint session, the council's Personnel and Labor Relations and Charter and Elections committees voted 5 to 1 to back the charter changes, which must be adopted by the full council before they may be placed before the voters.

The amendments are similar to three proposals that voters have rejected in 1980, 1983 and 1984, the most recent attempt failing by a small margin. Backers feel that in the wake of recent messy efforts to rid city government of two controversial general managers--Sylvia Cunliffe of General Services and Fred Croton of Cultural Affairs--voters will be more receptive to the proposed changes this year.

Although Mayor Tom Bradley recommended that Cunliffe and Croton be fired, Cunliffe ultimately agreed to retire while Croton resigned.

All six members of the two committees were in general agreement that changes were needed to streamline the current system which includes a hodgepodge of procedures depending on which department's general manager is involved.

Councilman Joel Wachs voted against the proposal. He parted company with his colleagues over the provision that could strip the mayor's power to block a general manager's firing.

Under current rules, the mayor appoints general managers subject to approval of the City Council. In order to remove a department head, the mayor must first recommend the ouster and the City Council must concur.

The proposed charter change would still give the mayor the right to initiate a department head's removal, but if he did not, then the City Council by a two-thirds vote could fire the general manager on its own.

Wachs said removing the mayor from the firing process makes the department head a "pawn" in any political battle between the mayor and council.

"The ability to appoint without the ability to fire is not such a great ability," Wachs said.

But other council members disagreed. They said that if the mayor refuses to remove a department head that is unwilling to carry out specific policies adopted by the City Council, the council should be able to order dismissal without mayoral approval.

In addition to making it easier for the City Council to remove a department head, the proposed amendments would establish an elaborate hiring system to find and evaluate qualified candidates for jobs; remove future department heads from current civil service protections and make the mayor and the council the sole appointing authority of all department heads. Under current charter provisions, some department heads, such as the police chief, are appointed by commissions appointed by the mayor.

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