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Mayor Meets With Bacon on Absences

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan met with Randall C. Bacon for an hour to discuss his frequent absences from his job as head of the Department of General Services, and is considering instituting a new policy to track the sick leave of top city managers.

Riordan left this week’s meeting with Bacon satisfied that Bacon’s 29 1/2 sick days in 1995 were for “legitimate medical issues” said Michael Keeley, chief operating officer in the mayor’s office.

Keeley cited confidentiality laws in declining to describe the illnesses of Bacon, who had far more sick days than other department heads. Keeley said he expects Bacon, head of the city General Services Department, to be at work more often this year, adding: “His absence had no impact on his performance or the department’s performance over the past year.”

Riordan’s decision to review Bacon’s attendance marked a reversal by the mayor. Last week, when informed of Bacon’s frequent absences, Keeley said Riordan was not interested in tracking Bacon’s vacation and sick time, despite a city policy that requires a review of repeated absences.

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But this week, spokeswoman Noelia Rodriguez said a Times story on the attendance issue raised “a question of integrity. . . . We felt it was appropriate to ask him about it.”

Others at City Hall said this week that they are concerned about Bacon’s frequent absences, which amounted to nearly one day in four in 1995, counting sick days, vacation time and trips to conferences.

Several City Council members said they have grown accustomed to Bacon not being at his desk in City Hall South.

‘We have found Mr. Bacon to be almost invisible in regards to his supervision of the Department of General Services,” said one council member who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s a very well known fact in city government that if you want something done in his department, you go to his subordinates.”

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One of Bacon’s assistants predicted that disclosure of Bacon’s attendance record, and the mayor’s initial refusal to conduct a review, will anger workers in the 1,752-employee department. “The worst thing about this is that [sick time] is probably the most common reason for discipline, particularly in the custodial ranks,” said the assistant, who asked not to be named. “And he violated his own policy. It probably upsets a lot of employees.”

Bacon took 236 hours of sick time, spread over 20 occasions, in 1995. That easily exceeded the threshold of six illnesses and 97 hours missed that is supposed to prompt a review.

Bacon, who makes $133,903 a year, has declined repeated interview requests. He said initially that he had missed days “here and there.” On Friday he again said he “did not care to discuss” his frequent absences for sickness.

The $172-million-a-year General Services Department operates the city’s buildings, maintains its cars and trucks and purchases a vast array of equipment and supplies. It has been under considerable fire in recent weeks, since a trash truck it maintained malfunctioned and killed two boys aboard a school bus. Bacon’s department also has been accused in audits of inefficiency in purchasing, and it helped oversee the city’s cellular telephone records, which a Times investigation found to be confused and incomplete.

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The mayor’s view of the attendance issue seems to be evolving.

Ten months ago, Riordan issued a memo demanding that all department heads “notify my office of all absences from work and designate an acting manager.” Riordan at the time reiterated an executive order from his predecessor, Tom Bradley, which said the attendance notification was “necessary for efficient administration of the city government.”

In the case of Bacon, though, the directive was followed haphazardly. The mayor’s office released memos Friday showing that Bacon gave advance notice of two vacations in 1995. Payroll records indicate, however, that Bacon was out on vacation 15 times.

After Keeley’s statement last week that tracking sick time was not one of the mayor’s concerns, the top aide was saying this week that Riordan soon will clarify his policy on sick leave for all top managers.

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“It’s likely we will come out with such guidelines in the next week,” Keeley said. “But the mayor has not made a final decision about the parameters of those guidelines.”


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