Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Time to Implement a Competency Test for City Hall

CityWatch, Feb 7, 2012
Vol 10 Issue 11

RETHINKING LA - The City of LA is preparing to engage in another round of budget triage, an annual charade that more closely resembles Three Card Monte than an actual commitment to accountability, performance, and delivery of city services. As the Mayor’s cost recovery mandate continues to reward departmental gouging of the public, the issue of competent performance continues to fall by the wayside. In fact, it appears that competency has been defined as the ability to generate revenue and justify staff positions, not to actually improve the quality of life in LA or deliver services more efficiently.

I offer a few examples.

1. As communities vie for Safe Routes to School funding, federal and state money that is meant to improve our communities so that it is safer for kids to walk and ride to school, the LADOT staff responsible for the process is unaware of the actual laws governing the process of crossing the street on foot.

To hear LADOT transportation engineers repeat jaywalking mythology while demonstrating a complete lack of knowledge for the law is confirmation that the people in charge do not have the necessary competency to perform their duties.

2. As bond money is spent building police and fire stations throughout the city, those in positions of oversight have deep pockets and a commitment to job security, priorities that are at odds with efficient and effective management of the building programs.

To hear BOE engineers defend their building code violations by referring to their “Cliff Notes” summary version of the building code is confirmation that those in charge are comfortable with their limited knowledge of the code and an expensive “do over” approach to construction and code enforcement.

3. As transportation funds are spent repairing our streets, the Bureau of Street Services and the Department of Transportation continue to trip over each other, first striping the streets and then covering them with a slurry seal, demonstrating a systemic inability to manage multi-departmental projects.

To hear LADOT and BSS staff explain their Tower of Babel approach to squandering public funds while undoing each other’s work is to hear a strong case for departmental consolidation and a commitment to competent leadership that is judged based on results.

4. As the debate over fences disrupts neighborhoods, an appeal to the General Manager of City Planning elicited a feeble sidestepping that included a plea of ignorance, “short of changing the LAMC, I cannot waive the fence requirements.”

To hear a veteran zoning professional profess ignorance of a decade old provision for Over Height Fence Districts is to hear a claim of incompetence, especially disturbing because it came in response to a plea for help from a group of community members.

5. As our elected officials take the oath of office, they swear to uphold the law of the land, apparently unaware that the oath includes federal and state law.

To hear the City Attorney advise the City Council that local legislation trumps state law is to witness a defense of incompetency as a substitute for upholding the law of the land.

The people of LA deserve a City Hall that is committed to competent performance but there is no process for evaluating outcomes or challenging performance.

As the Mayor engages the public in the budget survey process, asking for feedback on the delivery of city services, it is incumbent on him to demonstrate how he will evaluate performance.

Most importantly, especially in light of the rumor that these evaluations have already taken place and are simply gathering dust, the Mayor must produce a plan for separating the wheat from the chaff, the performers from the incompetent, the people who are moving LA forward from those who are obstacles to progress.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net.)

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