Sat, Apr

Villaraigosa's Los Angeles: Corruption without Consequence

MAILANDER ON POLITICS - Of course, it’s been an awful time.  But those who are naturally depressed during the holidays should not cast their eyes towards Los Angeles City Hall for relief.  The stories of the past month are of a city where corruption occurs naturally, and without consequence.
The President of the Public Works Commission is charged with drunkenness, child endangerment, and is being investigated for child abandonment.  Not only does she keep her $130,000 a year job, the City pays her leave time while she undergoes an undisclosed ...  The public who pays her salary isn’t even privy to what she’s being treated for.  And she finds some sympathy at the local newspaper—who instead assails the young woman’s critics, rather than the process of how she came to such a lofty position in the first place: by virtue of being a Councilmember’s daughter.
One of the young City media officials, one who happens to be very disrespectful to local online media although his own experience is grounded in such, ghost-writes a fictitious letter to a publication, singing the praises of his own Councilman, and is found out by a secondary, declining newspaper. Not only is no disciplinary action taken, the Councilman starts privately lashing out at media members for bringing attention to the story.
The City's order-taking former Housing chief, who doesn't seem to do math very well, or at least doesn't seem to know the number of rentals the City runs, returns from Washington and is reappointed to her lucrative housing post--without even bothering to make an appearance before the City Council that votes to confirm her by an astonishing majority.
After a party downtown, a City Councilmember rear-ends a citizen.  The police are called—and show up over two hours after the accident transpires.  The matter is now being pressed as a civil matter. The local constables praise the Councilmember for being cooperative.
As if all that weren’t enough, the thrice-adulterous Mayor of Los Angeles, many times spotted apparently drunk on the job, even in morning hours—a Mayor who has never shown much interest in democracy, and wouldn’t even debate his opponents in his own last election—is up for promotion to a post in the second Obama Administration.
To cap it all off, the former fishwrap of record for these parts, whose editorial board is stuffed to the gills with overpaid former news schlubs who have no idea how to work opinion pieces, thinks all of the foregoing is simply business as usual for the city, and even often leans on Villaraigosa appointed commissioners to criticize the Mayor’s critics.
It’s not business as usual. Not at all. Los Angeles used to have leaders who actually led by example—by real moral example as well as by instructive political theater, rather than the theater of the absurd we have today.
This will come as a shock to all, I’m sure, but when I worked for Mayor Bradley’s City of Los Angeles, I was once involved in a personnel dispute within my department.  I didn’t like something that had happened to me, and took the matter to the City’s Personnel Commission.
My own story is dull.  But the case that went before mine made an enormous impression on me, about the way a city could really work when the Mayor meant business.
This all happened a little ways after the 1992 riot.
Before my own case, the Personnel Commission, presided over by the Reverend Cecil Flowers, heard a case of suspension without pay of a City Police Dispatcher.
Teary-eyed, the dispatcher pleaded her case.
Yes, she saw on television that she was ordered by Mayor Bradley—as were all City employees—to come to work in the middle of the riot.  But she wasn’t ordered directly, and the riot had scared her, and most of all, it had scared her three little children.
“Don’t go in, mommy,” her little ones pleaded.  “We’re scared for you.”
On the second day of the four-day riot, the dispatcher stayed at home—and was promptly suspended for a month without pay.
Bradley’s Personnel Commission needed no time to deliberate on this one.
“The Mayor said, ‘all personnel,’” Flowers told the woman.  “This was important to the public safety of the city.  We’re sorry.  But we’re upholding your suspension.”
Those days were by no means golden—we of a certain age all remember, it was the hostility between Bradley and his Police Chief that amplified the riot in its nascent hours.  Still, it’s hard to imagine this kind of thing happening on a commission appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa—where the commissioners themselves may be under investigation.
It’s hard to imagine the City punishing any of its own personnel for any kind of action at all.
And the Los Angeles Times will even go so far as to apologize for a poor Commission President, supposedly in a leadership position, who has one drunk driving charge, one child endangerment charge, and one child abandonment charge under investigation.
It’s hard to imagine this kind of editorial effort from real opinion writers.
But it’s not hard to imagine City Councilmembers voting themselves pay raises, nodding and winking to others while letting all transgressions pass, or trying to game the press when they’re caught red handed in yet another ethical circus.
After seven and a half years, at the holidays, this is Mayor Villaraigosa’s city government: a city government of corruption without consequence.  Thank God there’s only six months left of it.  The city's fishwrap, however, may be beyond redemption.
(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of New World Triptych and The Plasma of Terror. Mailander blogs at www.josephmailander.com.) 
Vol 10 Issue 102
Pub: Dec 21, 2012