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Out and No Wonder

The City Hall system worked last month. That itself is news. Events showed that the city’s substandard general managers can actually be ushered out the door without undue resort to violence.

This certainly runs against the dogma according to Mayor Richard Riordan, who has long been snorting that he ought to have the power unilaterally to lop top underlings’ heads.

In his own estimation, of course, Treasurer J. Paul Brownridge was anything but substandard. On the contrary. In his resignation notice, he referred to himself as being credited with bringing "sound fiscal management practices and a prudent investment focus to the city." He further asserted that he, personally, was the reason our city didn’t go bankrupt the way Orange County did four years ago.

Brownridge was swinging a bit wild. O.C. Treasurer Robert Citron had to break state laws to put Orange County’s precious $1.7 billion nest egg into investment "products" so diverse and weird that their very purveyors were at a loss to describe them in court.

Brownridge’s lawful job was merely to perform the paperwork of investment, not to make investment decisions. So he’s bragging he never committed a felony on the job. That’s quite a boast.

Brownridge is going because Dick Rior dan’s underlings decided he wasn’t doing a good job. Brownridge, they decided, had been doing so ungood a job that he was not only denied his latest raise, but took a 1 percent cut in his $121,000 annual salary. The mayor who’d lately claimed he lacks the power to dismiss bad managers thus sent Brownridge packing.

Brownridge, who is black, made an accusation of discrimination. He said that Riordan has it in for black managers, particularly those hired under Riordan’s predecessor, Tom Bradley. The Times’ Patrick McGreevy checked in with the city’s African-American human-relations commissioner, Joe Hicks, who said he didn’t think the move was racially instigated.

Of course, he’s a Riordan appointee, but I agree with Hicks. Evaluations are confidential, but, according to the Times, Brownridge got a next-to-the-bottom overall score.

On the basis of his public performance, that’s the evaluation I’d have given him. The last time he was high in the public eye was in November of 1992, a very hard year for city finances. That was also the year Brownridge’s department lost the city $21.4 million by forgetting to re-park some city investments. I well recall Brownridge’s hapless second-in-command wincing under the scornful lashings of the council’s Budget and Finance Committee. Under questioning, he described a Treasurer’s Office fallen into inefficiency.

Brownridge, who later blamed the shortfall on his department’s loss of a part-time computer operator, bailed on the hearing, although committee chair Zev Yaroslavsky had strongly demanded his presence. Instead, Brownridge decided to take at least a week’s vacation in Mississippi. He’d only been 19 months on the job at that time, and his predecessor was the misfortunate Leonard Rittenberg, who’d fallen on his sword for Bradley in the matter of some spurious Mayor’s Office fiscal documents. But Rittenberg never mislaid any millions.

City Hall insiders expected Brownridge’s to be the first head to roll under the 1993 Riordan administration. Instead, it may even have been the last. The system worked, but in slow motion.

Why did it take so long? Possibly because there was then and still is no written official city fiduciary standard to which city department managers can be held. Such as: Thou shalt not lose by thy carelessness $21 million in public funds (enough to put 200 new police officers on the beat). Interestingly enough, a suggestion for just such a standard has been orbiting the City Council bureaucracy for nearly three years. Last year, the "proposal regarding fiduciary authority and other, related responsibilities" was finally drafted by the Ethics Commission and the city attorney’s and controller’s offices. The City Council should approve it. Instead, the council’s been sitting on it.

The directive demands that "members of city boards and commissions, general managers, assistant general managers and other heads and assistant heads of departments and offices shall . . . work to obtain the maximum public benefit for any city expenditure [and] be held responsible and accountable to properly approve or disapprove any expenditure . . ."

It further requires that serious lapses be reported immediately to either the controller or the Ethics Commission. And it further protects anyone who makes such a report from retaliation for such a disclosure.

If such a directive had been in effect in 1992, the chances are Brownridge would have been ousted long ago. And, come to think of it, then–Airport Commissioner Ted Stein would have been in no position to bully the airport staff into hiring on Clinton crony Webb Hubbell. Ah, hindsight. But what is the council waiting for now?

Of Man and Wife

 

In the good old days of politics, a person’s family was as much a part of the candidacy as the person (usually) himself. As even the congressional Republicans have now learned, the public has since developed considerable tolerance for domestic frailty. The one exception, of course, is when the candidate makes familial virtue a central campaign issue and then shows frailty.

Then the voting public can get fairly vicious.

Take the case of state Senator Richard Alarcon, for instance. He played the perfect-family card strongly in his narrow 1998 win over Assemblyman Richard Katz. If Alarcon’s campaign literature wasn’t stressing his reception of Holy Communion from Cardinal Roger Mahony, there was news of his renewing marital vows. Alarcon even managed, in his diminutive, mustachioed person, to look like the little groom on the wedding cake. His election was nothing if not a 29-vote triumph for pure, Catholic family values.

Now the little bridegroom has walked off the pastry. He’s left Corina. On Valentine’s Day, community activists planned a rueful vigil outside the San Fernando church where the Alarcons plighted their troth.

According to Mrs. Alarcon, as quoted in the Daily News, the couple’s relationship had long been shaky. Probably it was teetering when their union starred in all that uxorious campaign mail. Which is why members of the public are angry — it looks like the perfect-marriage pretense was a fraud.

Just a handful of people showed up for that sad little demo on Sunday, but you can’t help wondering what might have happened had the truth come out earlier. If 15 voters had changed their minds about Alarcon before the last election, we’d be talking about Senator Katz.

The 14th Fight

When was the last time 12 people qualified to run in a local Los Angeles city race? The best estimate out of City Hall last week was 30 years ago — that’s when the city Community College District was broken away from the L.A. Unified School District. No one could recall when this was last true in a council election.

As of last Friday, though, that’s how many qualified to run to succeed Richard Alatorre, the besmirched incumbent who’s decided not to seek re-election.

The challenger roster does not include anyone vaguely like a hand-picked Alatorre successor. Current 14th District chisme ranks 1995 contender Alvin Parra, charter-reform commissioner Nick Pacheco and campaign consultant Victor Griego at the top of the tall stack. Parra, of course, was the man brave enough to show, on meager resources, that Alatorre was weak enough to be beaten. Pacheco is the protégé of Alatorre archenemy Henry Lozano. Griego once worked for Alatorre, but it’s said their parting wasn’t friendly. Reports in La Opinión suggest Griego may have problems with his 14th District residency claim.

Unqualified as of Friday — due to his late petition submission — was Jorge Mancillas, former Tom Hayden aide and progressive favorite. A majority of COPE, the county Federation of Labor’s political arm, last week voted to support Mancillas. But the committee’s 41 out of 71 votes fell six short of the 47 needed for an endorsement. The city clerk was also still tallying petitions of three other candidates. If all four qualify, there’d be 16 primary contenders. At 1,000 voter signatures per qualifying petition, that would represent about 4,000 more 14th District voters than the near 12,000 who turned out four years ago in the Alatorre-Parra race.