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Small Towns Out in the Desert Somewhere Are Run Better Than LA

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.




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9 Responses to Small Towns Out in the Desert Somewhere Are Run Better Than LA

  1. Anonymous says:

    My dog manages his food dish better than our balding Mayor manages this city.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I want to include Bruno in this discussion. He looks like he is pretty neat dog. He would be perfect in Villar’s seat.

  3. in Eagle Rock says:

    Tony is just a little to arrogant for a guy who can’t manage the city. He is the mayor of a huge city and so what? It does things in a big way, but is that good? Tony seems to forget that when things go wrong with something as immense as the City of L.A. that it has similarly large repercussions. The city does not run on autopilot, though there’s usually no one accountable that you can find to put your finger one- thinking about the Michael Jackson events after his death.
    Recall that grand size and power does not always mean that things will end up well- the zepplin Hindenberg, the battleship Bismarck, the unsinkable Titanic were a few examples that come to mind.
    Tony is not the only one who does that, but he’s the one missing the most time at the wheel to let things get so dreadfully out of control.
    Mayor Tony, Just think how many dollars you could have steered towards the unions to keep yourself in a good light, but only if you had kept up with the job of managing the city dutifully as you should have been all along.

  4. in Eagle Rock says:

    Tony is just a little to arrogant for a guy who can’t manage the city. He is the mayor of a huge city and so what? It does things in a big way, but is that good? Tony seems to forget that when things go wrong with something as immense as the City of L.A. that it has similarly large repercussions. The city does not run on autopilot, though there’s usually no one accountable that you can find to put your finger one- thinking about the Michael Jackson events after his death.
    Recall that grand size and power does not always mean that things will end up well- the zepplin Hindenberg, the battleship Bismarck, the unsinkable Titanic were a few examples that come to mind.
    Tony is not the only one who does that, but he’s the one missing the most time at the wheel to let things get so dreadfully out of control.
    Mayor Tony, Just think how many dollars you could have steered towards the unions to keep yourself in a good light, but only if you had kept up with the job of managing the city dutifully as you should have been all along.
    Now we all suffer and the unions still manage to get more from you than is good for the city. Old habits die hard.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Truthfully, you really cannot call it “incompetent”. Using the word “incompetent” implys that the inflated costs for city work wasn’t intentional. IT WAS INTENTIONAL. Therefore, you must call city workers corrupt. They are doing their work at intentionally inflated costs to benefit themselves.
    L.A. CITY WORKERS ARE CROOKED.

  6. anonymous says:

    Good post Ron. Yes, mismanagement intertwined with union contracts and favors and lack of oversight and poor accountability sounds like business as usual. Who are the managers and budget folks over there? Are they union workers too, or are they exempt? And, what can Council do? Isn’t it the mayor who should do something? Would he listen to the Council (if they addressed it) or would he just ride it out for a year’s worth of more theatrics in Council Chambers while he spends his time being transparent at topless pools?
    And, golly, what’s with the waiving of fees to keep businesses coming here when they have union payrolls to cover? Who the heck came up with that contract (no need to answer)? Wouldn’t it make sense to have competitive bidding on the electrical work and, maybe, with the money saved, fee waiving wouldn’t be so horrific?
    Pointing out the mismanagement of waiving fees under the circumstances is like scolding someone for not scooping the water out of Hoover Dam with a teaspoon.
    The other items, like control over fixed assets and parking passes are telling. Not to worry, maybe these folks can be transferred over to the MTA to manage the new 300 million dollar contract.
    Speaking of competitive bidding, those potetial furloughed union workers should be able to compete for the jobs as independent contractors during their free time (at competitive prices, of course).

  7. The lack of accountability, competence, efficiency, and basic financial systems is compounded by almost $475 million in debt. Debt service is about $50 million a year, paid for by the Tax Payers.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Here is another thing: Why are we paying for the DWP to consult with engineers at JPL regarding our sudden upsurge in broken water mains?? Supposedly, high salaries for DWP workers are neccesary because they have highly paid engineers working for them. My long retired aerospace engineer thinks it has something to do with the new watering rules, which the Mayor says is just speculation. I’ll take Russ’ speculation over the Mayor’s anyday!

  9. Spiffy says:

    I haven’t watched that tape before.
    Golly, here’s a life lesson: A recession always hits the poorest the hardest. Always.
    The other day one of the food banks in the Valley was handing out $10 coupons for groceries. By the time they opened at 8 a.m. something like 150 people were in line for $10 bucks.
    Once again, the City Council is oblivious to the suffering in the city. It is so obvious in how the leader of this meeting tells the scheduled speaker to “Please proceed” (and just ignore all those homeless people shouting behind you.)
    Geez, is that not the problem with L.A. in one sentence? “Please proceed with your plans Movers and Shakers and ignore the suffering all around you.”
    Good for the homeless for refusing to be ignored. More power to them and to all of us who are not well connected downtown.

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