Mayor Tom Bradley’s renewed call to revamp the City Charter, which now essentially blocks the mayor and City Council from removing problematic top city managers, is fully proper. This section of the Charter has distorted the good government it was intended to promote: Instead of protecting good managers from the whims of political bosses, it has insulated bad managers from accountability.
Los Angeles’ system of strong civil service protections has its roots in the 1930s, during rampant municipal corruption. But these days a larger and more diverse population demands accountability. Ironclad job protections for top city executives make no sense. Bradley in 1987 wanted to fire the controversial city general services manager. Only after extensive negotiations in which she agreed to drop a lawsuit against the city did she retire months later--at an annual pension of $58,000.
Many Angelenos are now trying to call the police chief to account after seeing the videotape showing Los Angeles Police Department officers mercilessly beating an unarmed motorist. Good luck. It seems that if you’re a department head for the city of Los Angeles, the almighty civil service system is an immovable object that ensures job security that would be envied even by the British Royal Family.
Five times in the last 20 years voters have narrowly rejected reforms that would change the system of selecting and disciplining general managers. But now, more than ever, it’s clear that all top city executives should periodically be subject to performance review--and dismissal if that performance is unsatisfactory.
Whether the review should take place every five years, as Bradley suggests, or more or less frequently can be studied further. But the fundamental notion is irrefutable: Elected officials and the community should not to be held hostage to what amounts to lifetime job guarantees for civil service department heads, be they maintenance chiefs or police chiefs.