Labor Attacks Charter Reforms


The elected commission charged with rewriting Los Angeles’ aging city charter ran into a storm of disapproval Monday night as organized labor joined other groups in deriding the panel’s vote to strengthen the powers of the mayor and in urging it to reconsider a host of votes intended to carry out that mission.

The meeting was a far cry from the commission’s session just one week ago, when Mayor Richard Riordan and his top advisors urged the panel to streamline city government and praised its plan as a historic shift in the city’s governance.

At that session, the voices of labor were mixed, with building-and-trades unionists joining the mayor and city workers urging the opposite course.

On Monday, however, there was no dissent. A total of 32 speakers addressed the commission, and only a handful had even a word of praise for the panel. Those who did were booed by an overwhelmingly labor crowd packed into a classroom in a West Los Angeles middle school on a sultry night.


So marked was the change in temperament from a week earlier that the same commission that had voted to give the mayor power to fire city general managers without City Council approval was confronted with a motion by one of its members, Bennett Kayser, to give that same council the power to impeach the mayor. That idea was referred to committee.

The most tense issue was the question of who should negotiate labor contracts for the city government. Since the 1950s, that function and many others have been performed by the city’s chief administrative officer, who reports to both the council and the mayor.

In general, the elected commission has been trying to clarify duties of the council and mayor, limiting the council to legislative functions and reserving management authority for the mayor.

In keeping with that philosophy, the commission staff recommended that the labor negotiation power shift from the city administrative officer to the mayor or someone designated by the mayor.


But that proposal, along with last week’s votes to give the mayor more power in a variety of fields, galvanized city workers--some of whom have long distrusted Riordan and have questioned the need to tinker with a negotiating system that they believe has served well.

The chief administrative officer, respected senior official Keith Comrie, set the meeting’s tone by accusing the commission of moving toward what he derisively referred to as “the New York model.”

“Progressive governments do not look to New York for good government and good leadership,” Comrie said, noting that New York was the largest municipal government in modern American history to face bankruptcy. Los Angeles has never had a fiscal crisis that severe.

Several speakers accused the commission of disrupting the city’s delicate balance of power. Others charged that it had moved away from the real mission of charter reform--empowering residents and neighborhoods--and drifted into an improper power grab by the mayor.


Union officials were joined in their skepticism by Geraldine Washington, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. Washington said existing systems of checks and balances had generally served African Americans well, and she warned against concentrating too much authority in the hands of the mayor.

Those sentiments run counter to the views of some analysts, including influential downtown business interests, who argue that efficiency in government would be best served by a more powerful chief executive.

The executives who make up that group have enjoyed the support of organized labor in some key issues. Monday, however, those views were absent.