The most memorable line Antonio Villaraigosa ever uttered came when he was under criticism for jet-setting around the world, hobnobbing with big shots and failing to pay attention to his duties as mayor of the second largest city in America.
“I’m mayor of the city of Los Angeles, not some small town in the desert somewhere. We are a global city,” Villaraigosa said.
The heart of the problem with the mayor and other officials is that they run LA like it is a small town out in the desert somewhere, a town run by a small clique of insiders who act like they own the place, show little or no regard for the common good and, worst of all, are hopelessly inefficient.
Incompetent is the word most often used to describe city government.
A case in point is the LA Convention Center, a white elephant that has gobbled up hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
Gary Toebben, head of the LA Chamber of Commerce, in his weekly Business Perspective column point to Controller Wendy Greuel’s recent audit of the Convention Center as an example, noting these findings:
“Los Angeles may be losing thousands of
dollars in fees waived by Convention Center staff because there is no
system in place to access the actual costs of each event. Failure to
properly maintain the Convention Center and restrictions in city
ordinances prevent the staff from adjusting rates to adequately compete
with other communities during non-peak booking periods. Perhaps most
startling is a labor mandate requiring that the Convention Center
utilize city electrical workers, which has resulted in thousands of
overtime hours. Twenty-five city electrical workers earned an average
of $94,000 in overtime pay with one topping out at $146,000.”
There’s a lot of other damaging findings in the audit:
* A flawed system for using employee overtime with a lack of oversight, which has led to
over a million dollars being wasted. LACC uses City employees from other Departments
- and pays them overtime, as opposed to expanding its pool of as-needed employees that
can provide these services at regular rates.
* Employees are being paid “overtime” when they are no longer full-time City
employees. The Convention Center needs to immediately seek to
recover tIie nearly $34,474 owed to the City.
* An employee that has been on administrative leave for 3 and a half years and is
still being paid a monthly uniform allowance.
.• A lack of control over fixed assets. The Convention Center is supposed to have
61,893 fixed assets worth nearly $11.4 million. We sampled 60 items to verify
their existence–and could not locate approximately 25% of the items.
• No clear policy or oversight for fees being waived by the Convention Center.
• For November 2008 alone, we found that 43 parking cards were used by people after the completion or cancellation of their events.
If only this kind of mismanagement were contained to the Convention Center.
The lack of regard for the public’s money runs right through everything City Hall does.
The mayor boasts his business tax amnesty netted $20 million from scofflaws who avoided $7 million in penalties but hundreds of millions of dollars still owed the city go uncollected.
For seven years, the city has tried to regulate billboards but still doesn’t know where those that don’t have permits are, fully one-third of them of the 11,000 billboards blighting the city.
Under criticism for blanket approval to spend millions of dollars a year for community and commercial events, the City Council comes up with a policy to pay only part of the costs and then finds out that the figures they have been getting are totally fictitious. There is no bookkeeping because nobody really cares about where the money goes as long as it keeps flowing in.
The list is endless. Spending is routinely approved without any cost-benefit analysis, audits of poorly performing departments and programs create more paperwork than action.
Is it any wonder that a quarter of the way into the new fiscal year, there’s a $300 million hole in the budget?
Put aside for the moment, the corruption and the sweetheart deals with unions and contractors, the biggest problem is simply a lack of competence. No one is held accountable; there aren’t even accounts that are reliable.
Yet, we have the highest paid city government in America with Council members getting $180,000 a year and citywide electeds even more. No other city pays anything like that. We have 1,000 retired city employees getting $100,000 a year and thousands more who will join that exclusive club in the next few years.
The plan to start an initiative drive to cut the elected officials’ salaries in half won’t solve the problem. But it will make us feel better and it might send them a message that voters are fed up with them and want to see change in a hurry.
This is a city with 4 million people, not some small town out in the desert somewhere. It’s time City Hall started managing LA like the big city it is.