L.A. Mayor Garcetti’s goal: modernize city government

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They appear to be routine job interviews: One by one, the top managers of city agencies spend an hour with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as he ponders who should stay and who should go.

But with Garcetti wrapping up three months of evaluations, far more is at stake than who will administer parks, libraries or traffic lights.

The mayor’s sessions with city managers are the first move in what he is portraying as a signature initiative: a top-to-bottom modernization of an often-lumbering, 50,000-person bureaucracy that controls the critical machinery of daily life in Los Angeles, from the water supply and power grid to the police and fire emergency dispatch system.


Garcetti’s goal is to develop a finely tuned data system that will track key measures of performance for every city agency — how many miles of streets get repaired, how long it takes to pick up bulky items of trash. Starting around Oct. 8, the 100th day of his administration, aides say, results will be posted on the Web. What measures Garcetti will roll out remains to be seen, but the concept would be to allow residents to check such things as whether 911 response times in their neighborhoods are improving or how long it takes to clean up graffiti.

The objective, Garcetti says, is a higher quality of life for the city’s 3.8 million residents. Managers who embrace the new ethos of efficiency and accountability will stay, he says. The others will go.

“It’s much more than just interviewing winners and losers,” Garcetti said. “This is about changing the relationship between mayors and his cabinet, and finding people who share my sense of urgency, working with them to develop a better sense of accountability and metrics, and rewarding their innovation.”

It’s a gamble for the new mayor. If the system works as advertised, it will enable voters — as well as potential opponents — to assess his performance with precision when he stands for reelection in 2017.

If the city’s rebounding economy enables Garcetti to restore services slashed during the recession, and if the administration runs the city well, the data could work to his benefit. But if the recovery stumbles, or agencies fall short of the expectations he sets, critics will be able to turn the data against him.

The trick is figuring out what to measure at each agency and how to present the results to the public — questions that have occupied Garcetti aides for weeks. Limited or self-serving disclosure — a Web format tailored to make the administration look good — could undercut a centerpiece of Garcetti’s mayoralty.


“The translation from the very appealing goal of metric-based government to the actual performance of it can be a rocky road,” said Fred Register, a Pasadena campaign consultant.

“It could be that even if you set up a system that works, the payoff won’t be short-term enough to shield you from repercussions in the next elections.”

Other cities, including Minneapolis and Boston, have set up performance measuring Web pages that Garcetti’s team views as models for Los Angeles. The Minneapolis site shows violent crime rising from 2001 to 2006, then declining steadily. Boston’s site reports a slowdown in streetlight repairs over the last 18 months.

The L.A. project is integral to Garcetti’s political fortunes, because the core of his agenda is to make City Hall more responsive in delivering basic services.

Leading the effort is Rick Cole, Garcetti’s deputy mayor for budget and innovation. A former Pasadena mayor and Ventura city manager, Cole has gathered reports from nearly three dozen department managers suggesting what performance “metrics” to track and show the public.

Cole and Garcetti are pressing managers to replicate the Compstat system used by the Police Department to track crime patterns throughout the city and adapt quickly to new troubles that emerge. All department heads were summoned to LAPD headquarters recently for a Compstat demonstration by Chief Charlie Beck.


“We expect them to take a page from that model and begin to think more rigorously about how we’re doing, and to measure how we’re doing,” Cole said at his City Hall office overlooking Grand Park. “And if the number of books circulated is no longer a relevant way of judging a successful library, what is a relevant way of judging the success of a library?”

Garcetti’s vetting process has left general managers uncertain about their jobs. But some are embracing the process and the new, evolving performance management model.

“Whatever the mayor wants to do is perfectly fine with me,” said Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports. “He’s the boss, and he deserves to, and he should, review every one of us.”

Garcetti said the time he’s taking to decide on department heads and set clear objectives is worth it. It “would’ve been easy to go fast, but not get it right,” he said.

Garcetti’s review of the agency chiefs is part of his broader push to consolidate power in the mayor’s office. The city charter gives him less power than the mayors of other big cities, such as New York and Chicago. L.A.’s powerful 15-member City Council can thwart the mayor’s will, and a tangle of commissions oversees many city agencies.

But Garcetti is the third L.A. mayor to hold office since voter-approved charter revisions shifted more power to the mayor in 2001. He is trying to harness that power by cutting the number of deputy mayors (it often fluctuated under his predecessors) to four, each with clear lines of authority over specific agency managers.


“Little known fact is that the mayor is the ‘chief executive officer’ of the city of Los Angeles,” Cole said, referring to the mayor’s job description in the charter. “Without being cute, that has not been the way the government has been organized in recent memory.”

Greg Nelson, a longtime chief of staff to former Councilman Joel Wachs, said Garcetti should expect push-back from “those who enjoy the status quo.”

“There’s going to be resistance from City Council members who don’t like the mayor being — as he should be — the administrative head of the city, and running the departments,” Nelson said. “The people who have power don’t like to give it up.”