A City Watcher’s Report to the People of L.A.
My name is Samuel M. Sperling. I’m a retired City employee Overall, and as active City-Watcher. I’ve been — on the payroll and during my retirement — for the people of Los Angeles.
Before I retired in 1986, I’d learned that one employee — if he/she is willing to plead and pester and organize — can make a difference at City Hall.That’s what this blog is all about.
For my first 61/2 years I wrote civil service tests for the fire service Then,in 1967, I accepted a Principal Personnel Analyst job in the Public Works Bureau of Management-Employee Services. I remained in Public Works for 5 ½ years. About half that time was in B/M-ES. The Director and I worked well together; our focus was on building an effective team of first-level supervisors
Then, a member of my staff questioned the Director’s truthfulness. He blamed me for her challenge, stopped treating me as the Assistant Director and moved me into an old abandoned warehouse. Ultimately, The Board President intervened and I was moved to Special Services and put in charge of a project that Mayor Yorty wanted, but that couldn’t be implemented.
My stay in Special Services was a TOTAL DOWNER. I was expected to boost the number of bids for Public Works construction projects. And according to Board President Chappell, I could do that simply by teaching small/minority contractors how to bid for our Department’s projects.
I contacted representatives of three Associations of small contractors who said, “it’s not training we need; we already know how to bid Public Works projects. We don’t bid your projects because we can’t get the insurance you require, and because we can’t handle your deferred payment policy. Is there a way you can help us with these problems?”
I shared what I’d learned from the contractors with President Chappell. He dismissed their explanation and their request. He accused me of not working hard enough to make the Mayor’s program succeed. “You were not assigned to change the Department’s requirements; you were assigned to train contractors. But it’s clear you’re not doing that.” Without further discussion, my position was cut out of the Department’s budget and I was sent back to Personnel.
My second trip to Personnel was short and uneventful. I was given a desk, but no phone and no regular assignment . And after I protested my removal from the City’s Advisory Affirmative Action Committee, i was allowed to serve.
In 1974, I went back the Public Works. Warren Hollier had replaced Howard Chappell as President of the Board. He asked me to draft the Department’s EEO/AA Program. He liked my ideas on this subject. But there were other subjects about which our views were quite different.
On May 7, 1980, the City Council was scheduled to vote on a proposal to replace the full-time Board of Public Works as head of the Department. As President of PELT, I supported that proposal. I took vacation time, went to the Council and spoke in favor of a “YES” vote. The proposal failed, but Warren never forgave me. Our relationship tanked and he began scheming to limit my access to the Council.
Warren created a “Special Position” for me. I rejected that position and took the matter to court. On November 7th, 1980 the Court ruled in my favor. Warren was fired; he was replaced as Board President by Maureen Kindel. She created the Public Works Task Force For Participative Management And Employee Morale. I was assigned to that Task Force as a B/M-ES representative, and served on it until I left City Service in 1986.
Serving on the Public Works Task Force was a dream come true. It was the most productive period in my City career. But it wasn’t my only effort to improve the City’s management of employee performance.
For example, I served on the City’s Advisory Affirmative Action Committee from the day it was created until the very end, 20 years later. Moreover, I served 10, one-year terms as President of Public Employees for Lower Taxes.
These and other activities are described in the remaining pages of this blog.
Making Civil Service Work for All the People of Los Angeles
When I left City Service in 1986, I was an active member of the Advisory Affirmative Action Committee, (AAAC). I stayed on as a consultant until Mayor Bradley was replaced by Mayor Riordan , who didn’t support the City’s EEO-AA program.
The Committee was created by the City Council to improve communication between employees, particularly women and minorities, and the Personnel Department. This important advance came two years before Tom Bradley was elected Mayor of Los Angeles. And it came in response to the efforts of one man, Ernesto Valdez, and the group he represented, the Los Angeles City Employee Chicano Association. LACECA made the case for Council intervention and the AAAC was created.It served the City and the participating employees for over 20 tears.
It’s not difficult to understand how the City benefited from its meetings with the Committee: Those meetings brought together in one place representatives of all the groups that had been, or felt they had been, left out at City Hall. It gave Personnel an opportunity to answer questions — to explain policies and practices that were not well understood. The truth is, AAAC gave Personnel an opportunity to turn doubters into believers; and Personnel did not miss that opportunity!
For its part, the Committee served the public interest in several distinct ways. For example it objected to an archaic policy, adopted earlier by the Civil Service Commission that disqualified applicants who had been arrested for vagrancy or loitering. That policy violated Federal Anti-Discrimination laws; it was rescinded.
Similarly, the Committee noted that Personnel scheduled all its written tests on Saturdays, which seemed unfair to individuals who worship on that day of the week. By calling attention to that practice, the Committee helped correct it.
Other Personnel practices were inconsistent with the Uniform Guideline on Employee Selection Procedures. For example, most City departments used trait-rating procedures that don’t evaluate employees’ job performance. And those flawed procedures were used both in hiring employees and in appraising the work of career employees.
Then, the City Council directed the Personnel Department to develop an evaluation procedure that would survive legal scrutiny. That turned out to be a 10-year project, which the Personnel Department seemed reluctant to pursue. With constant prodding by the AAAC, The Supervisor's Guide to Performance Appraisal was finally published. But before it could be implemented, Mayor Bradley retired and the Guide was abandoned.
On another project, the AAAC’s work was more productive. In 1974 Mayor Bradly and the City Council had established an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Plan for Los Angeles. That plan expanded the responsibility of every supervisor in City Service. I gave them 4 new duties: 1) To communicate EEO:AA information to employees; 2) To use job-related personnel practices; 3) To help employees with their career plans; and 4) To provide for needed training and development.
An AAAC sub-committee was asked to determine if the addition of these new duties had changed the way City supervisors are hired, trained and evaluated. This was an impossible assignment, but it did give the Sub-Committee an opportunity to study every fifth Examination Announcement for 244 first level supervisor job classes in civil service. Thus, the Sub-Committee’s study was focused on 48 Exam Announcements.
The Sub-Committee’s findings were a disappointment. They indicated an obvious lack of consistency as to the skills, knowledge and abilities supervisory candidates were tested for. In some cases, candidates could pass the written test without indicating any understanding of what it takes to get the best from employees.
AAAC’s report to the Personnel Department insisted that all candidates for the written test in all 244 first level supervisory classes and all 292 Management classifications be tested for a basic knowledge of modern Human Resource Management.
Personnel found our report “interesting and usable”.
Employees Organize to Control the Cost of City Government
Public Employees for Lower Taxes was organized in response to the concerns and actions of a City employee named William D. Diemer, who worried that the cost of City government was rising too fast. When the budget for 1975–76 was being discussed, Diemer learned that increases he considered outrageous were being demanded for certain City employees. He talked with his co-workers about those demands and was pleasantly surprised that many of them agreed the demands were outrageous.
Diemer drew up a letter to the City Council proposing that all salary increases be deferred for one year. Fully half the employees who were asked to sign that letter did so. Council dismissed the proposal, but Diemer and a growing group of supporters continued meeting and talking about things City employees could do to put a brake on the cost of City government.
There was general agreement that all City employees should come to work every day — should give the City 8 hours of work for 8 hours of pay. Employees should think of themselves as part of a City-wide team hired to make life better for the residents –including their neighbors and in some cases themselves. Everyone in the group had something to say — about tardiness, about the abuse of sick leave and about extended lunches. Some employees complained that they were not really being challenged to do their best.
Eventually, Diemer’s “lunch bunch” decided to organize. I was asked to serve as President, and we all agreed to call ourselves PUBLIC EMPLOYEES FOR LOWER TAXES. We adopted a schedule of meetings, and started planning how we could make City government more effective, more efficient and more responsive.
Although I had been elected for a one-year term of office, PELT turned out to be a ten-year commitment. When my first year was up, no one was willing to be President. That was also the case after my second, third and each successive term. When I left City Service in 1986, I had actually served ten, one-year terms as PELT’s President. I’m not complaining, but that was the most challenging time of my life.
PELT’s first report, LAPD: SACRED COW AT CITY HALL, characterized the Police Department as “the most expensive, least effective bureaucracy in City government”. The title got the City Council’s attention, and I was asked to testify at a joint meeting of two Council Committees.
The information I provided the Joint Committee was compelling. It was taken from the City budget and from Volume II of the Police Department’s Organization and Functions Manual. When that information was confirmed by a ranking Police Department representative, my call for an audit was supported. In due time, a member of the City Administrative Officer’s staff audited the Police Department and submitted a report with 73 recommendations.
Following City protocol, the CAO’s audit report was sent to the Police Chief for review and comment. It was supposed to be returned to the City Council without undue delay. But Chief Gates had a different idea. He sat on the CAO report and simultaneously prepared his own report to the Council. When his report was ready, he trampled the CAO report in a public display of arrogance, and took his report to City Hall. He asked Council to put his report, on the ballot.In Los Angeles, the 8500 Plan was on the ballot was Measure A in the June 2, 1981 General Municipal Election. PELT wrote the Argument against the Measure and the Rebuttal Argument for the Measure as well. As you might imagine, I was angry that the CAO’s 73 recommendations had not been submitted to the Council for consideration, but I was not at all displeased that the 8500 Plan was rejected by the voters.
Although the City Administrative Officer’s audit was conducted over 30 years ago, the 73 recommendations have never, to the best of my knowledge and belief, been reviewed by the City Council. Thus, I suggest the CAO’s report to be released to the media for public scrutiny. Who knows? Some of those recommendations may still be useful in controlling the cost of keeping Los Angeles safe!
Employees Retire, Citizens don’t
When Tom Bradley left the Mayor’s office in 1993, the Advisory Affirmative Action Committee continued meeting with the Personnel Department. Leaders asked for a meeting with the new Mayor; he didn’t say “yes” and he didn’t say “No.” finally, the made it clear that he didn’t support the City’s EEO/AA program; and after 20 years, my work on the Committee came to an end.
In 1995, four former coworkers and I created a non-profit organization which we called The Academy for Supervisory Development. Our plan was to raise money, hire a trainer and offer the City a cost-free way to train its supervisors. We were so confident that we actually hired an expert who trained supervisors in 2 City departments — before we had raised any money.
That experience left ASD with a bill — which a Board member paid — and a training manual, A NEW WAY TO EVALUATE EMPLOYEE PERFORMANCE. The manual helped win support from the International Personnel Management Association for a survey of its members on the use of probation in employee selection.
Then, IPMA’s Assessment Council invited me to be a presenter at its 24th Annual Conference. The Conference was called MONUMENTAL IDEAS IN ASSESSMENT; it was to be held on June 6, 2000 in Arlington VA, and I would be expected to explain A New Way to Evaluate Employee performance.
My presentation was very well received; I was encouraged to ask the Civil Service Commission in Los Angeles to schedule a ”Special Meeting” to discuss/debate the use of probation as a job-related working test.
Eventually, such a meeting was scheduled. I reminded the Commission that the Personnel Department’s previous General Manager had informed the City Council that, in view of a recent Court decision, the current rating form (PDAS-28) would probably not survive legal challenge. Moreover, that form does not evaluate what employees actually do on the job; it rates them on a trait list. And that gives managers very little information about employees’ job performance.
When I concluded, the Commission President said, “Mr. Sperling, if PDAS-28 ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” With that, the Board received and filed my proposal
In 2006, I was given an opportunity to write a biweekly column for the Tolucan Times. My column was called “Trouble Finder at City Hall.“ With a title like that, I was probably expected to go after the wrong-doers in City government. I worked very hard to give my readers what they wanted.
My column exposed the succession of Mayors (Riordan, Hahn, Villaraigosa and Garcetti) who changed the civil service provisions of the City Charter which the people of Los Angeles had approved. I wrote that, by trampling the people’s right to a vote, Mayors were, in fact, grabbing full control other City’s civil service system.
My column charged the City Council with ignoring its Charter-mandated duty, and allowing the Mayors to grab for themselves the powers vested in the Board of Civil Service Commissioner s I wrote that, by refusing to monitor the City’s personnel function, the Council allowed human resource mismanagement in City departments to continue.
Over a 7-year period, I wrote about numerous problems in City government. I wrote about a Civil Service Commissioner who lied about Mayor Bradley’s EEO/AA program in order to win support for the Riordan Paradigm. I wrote about a member of the City Council who appeared to be lobbying for a girl-friend. I wrote about a semi-competent Manager in the Personnel Department, who actually defended the City’s archaic approach to performance appraisal.
But I’m 90 years old. I don’t write much about anything now. My current effort is to improve the way City government communicates with its 4 million residents. One of my recent pieces, “An Idea That Would Benefit Everyone” was followed by another piece, “What City Government Does For Angelenos.”
Both these articles make the case for openness and accountability in City government. Thus, you should not be surprised, Dear Reader, that I ask YOU to share your your concerns about those good government components with Mayor Garcetti. He says he wants to hear from his constituents and he can be reached by phone at (213) 978–0600 and by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.