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Council Deadlocks on Hiring New Executive

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles City Council failed Friday to block creation of a $112,000-a-year executive post at the Department of Airports, despite fears that the city can ill afford a new high-paid position in tough budgetary times.

The council deadlocked, 6 to 6, on a motion by Councilwoman Ruth Galanter to do away with the new job, which Galanter and others argued was a waste of money. The appointee would be the department’s third deputy manager and would oversee public relations, marketing, lobbying and environmental issues.

“How in the world can you expect the public to believe you when you say cuts in police are necessary, when they see you turning right around and putting in another $112,000 position to do public relations and other work?” said Councilman Joel Wachs.

A separate proposal by supporters of the Airports Department also failed by a 6-6 vote. The motion by Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores would have created the position but prevented the department from appointing anyone until after a Civil Service review, which takes several months.

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“Whether or not we approve this position, doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not we will hire more police officers” because the airport and police budgets are separate, Flores said. “If we could take this (money) and translate it into more police officers . . . I would vote for it.”

With neither side mustering a majority, the council forfeited its jurisdiction over the expenditure, leaving the Airports Department to do as it pleases. Department General Manager Clifton Moore said after the vote that he will go ahead and create the position, but he backed off plans to fill the job immediately under his powers of emergency appointment.

“I would not do it in view of the conflict here,” Moore said, referring to the heated council debate that preceded the votes. “I expect it to pursue its course. They will do the (Civil Service) exam, and I will make the appointment following the exam.”

The Airports Department is exempt from the citywide hiring freeze because the semi-independent agency is supported by airline landing fees rather than city taxes. But invoking new powers of oversight approved by voters last spring, the City Council voted last week to review the department’s decision to create the position.

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The Airports Commission moved last month to create the top-level management job as part of a reorganization of the $200-million-per-year department. Although the position has not been posted, the leading candidate has been identified as Philip Depoian, one of Mayor Tom Bradley’s longest serving City Hall aides.

City Personnel Director Jack Driscoll said Friday that the job has not been considered by the Civil Service Commission, which must approve the salary, title and job qualifications. Once the job is posted, all applicants--including Depoian--would be required to take a Civil Service exam. Moore would then be given a list of the top six candidates from which to choose, officials said.

Airports Commission President Robert Chick joined Moore at Friday’s council meeting in hopes of persuading the council to approve the new position, but a discussion between Chick and Councilwoman Joy Picus degenerated into a shouting match when Picus read a letter from a union leader representing about 300 janitors who work for subcontractors hired by the department.

The union leader complained that the department has allowed the contractors to pay “poverty wages"--$5 per hour--and provide no medical benefits. An agitated Picus accused Chick and the commission of a double standard in dealing with employees and asked how they could create a new high-paid management position when “you screw, that’s the only word for it, people that clean the airport terminals.”

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An equally angry Chick shouted back.

“It is outrageous to accuse our commission, strong supporters of the working person, of trying to screw” the workers, he said.


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