When times are tough and the challenges great, real leaders sometimes step forward and rise to the occasion with bold steps that bring people together.
This is such a time in the history of Los Angeles, a time that cries out for a great and courageous leader. Yet, it’s business as usual at City Hall with more back room deals and a greater disparity between the public and private stories than ever.
Commissioners and bureaucrats are brow-beaten into obedience by an increasingly desperate administration. The City Council is rudderless and confused, lacking the talent and integrity to fill the void.
As the public wakes up to the dangers that confront their hopes for a better future, the leaking political machine that rules the city offers small tokens to appease the anger.
Controller Wendy Greuel took a baby step — not a giant leap forward — on Monday by announcing she will post online in a searchable database the jobs and salaries of all city employees, well almost all.
“By this time, I am sure you are all aware of the recent controversy in the City of Bell where the City Manager, City staff and Councilmembers were paid exorbitant salaries with little to no public accountability,” she wrote the mayor, Council and all department heads.
“In light of these developments and heightened public interest, I am taking steps to ensure openness and transparency in our own City salary system…During these tough economic times, I take my responsibility as the City’s chief financial watchdog very seriously, putting a high priority on ensuring that our finances and payroll are properly managed and reported.”
There’s one big problem with Greuel’s commitment to open and transparent government: No names, which makes the list almost meaningless.
Several years ago, the Daily News did put the full list of city employees, their salaries, names and positions in a now outdated searchable database.
The DWP did its best to keep from turning over the list and its union, the IBEW, organized a campaign of phone calls threatening lawsuits because disclosure would endanger lives and people who cheat on spousal support would be exposed.
It was ridiculous but California law requiring full disclosure prevailed without the sky falling in.
Yet Greuel is omitting the names out of concern for the safety of employees who have
had threats made against them, as well as those who work in sensitive
positions such as jobs within the Los Angeles Police Department. DWP employees are also exempt because the utility has its own payroll system outside the control and scrutiny of Greuel’s office.
“We wanted to get the information up as quickly as possible so that the public could see without compromising any security concerns, and posting city positions and salaries is the best way to do that,” Greuel aide Ben Golombek said.
This isn’t good enough.
Greuel should show courage and go all the way and not just post salary levels but all overtime and bonuses as well with updates at least annually if not more often.
The mayor and the DWP Board of Commissioners should follow suit immediately.
Semi-open and semi-transparent have no more meaning than being a little bit pregnant. City Hall will either open up all its records to the public or remain a closed system protecting itself from public knowledge and scrutiny. Halfway measures do not serve the public interest..