A common lament about government employees is that a lack of incentives for those who do well and a lack of leverage on those who don't are chiefly to blame for widespread inefficiency in providing services to the public.
Or, as Assistant Chief Administrative Officer John Shirey puts it, in describing the problem in the Los Angeles County bureaucracy: "You can be a slug or a world-beater, but the pay's the same."
But Shirey and his boss, James C. Hankla, are betting that under a new plan now before the Board of Supervisors, the "world-beaters" will finally get their due and the "slugs," in a way, will get theirs.
In short, yearly salary increases would no longer be a sure thing for hundreds of high-level managers in the county bureaucracy. Raises would be granted on merit alone.
The offshoot of a proposal soundly rejected by voters last June, the new merit pay proposal stands a better chance of enactment because it requires only majority approval of the five supervisors. Interviews with supervisors and aides indicate the plan will be adopted Tuesday.
"It is a system . . . to allow the higher performer to get a better level of pay than average or people who fail to perform," said Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Donald Deise, who coordinates county personnel matters.
Deise's boss, outgoing Chief Administrative Officer Hankla, is pushing the plan as the second attempt in a year to bolster productivity in county management. Hankla authored last June's ill-fated Proposition A that would have moved more than 1,000 key managerial positions out of Civil Service and subject non-performers to easy dismissal.
In his two years as the man in charge of administering the county bureaucracy, Hankla has been trying to make managers more accountable for their work. He says raises based on merit would help do that and result in a more productive county government.
His failure to have introduced an incentive system earlier was a key reason for Hankla's recent decision to abandon the post to become Long Beach city manager, county sources said.
The merit pay plan could attract opposition from two supervisors, Ed Edelman and Kenneth Hahn, who both strongly opposed Proposition A as a throwback to a "spoils system" in which only favored employees get raises, regardless of performance.
Edelman said he had some concerns about the latest proposal, but added: "I have not come to any conclusions. We want to make sure it won't be subject to abuse."
Likewise, Hahn said he tentatively opposes the merit pay concept because it could discourage "whistle-blowing" by lower-level managers who might spot abuses in the bureaucracy but hesitate to report them out of fear that they would not receive a raise.
Supervisor Deane Dana, meanwhile, strongly endorses the proposal, saying the county has little choice but to find ways to improve performance. Dana is a member of the board's conservative majority that also includes Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Pete Schabarum, who also back the plan.
"The county is going to have to become more efficient in light of (voter-imposed taxing and spending) limits," Dana said. "Even if we wanted to, we can't just raise taxes. Top management has to be more efficient."
Dana said the proposal is an extension of a trial pay incentive plan that the 45 county department heads have been under for the last year. Under that plan, all department chiefs eventually received a pay increase.
If adopted as expected, about 400 senior managers as well as the department heads would be shifted on Jan. 1 into a new system in which they will become eligible for year-end salary boosts if they reach or exceed predetermined goals. The more each participant excels, the greater his or her pay would increase, Deise said.
Those failing to meet prescribed expectations would receive no pay hike, Deise said, although they would continue to receive present Civil Service protections against dismissal.