Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley on Wednesday said he will bring charges against Sylvia Cunliffe, the General Services Department chief accused of favoritism and mismanagement, beginning a potentially long and tangled job fight that could reach the City Council, where she has some support.
In a letter to Cunliffe's attorney, Godfrey Isaac, Bradley said: "It is my intent to present Ms. Cunliffe and/or her counsel with disciplinary charges and the documents on which those charges are based."
Bradley told Isaac: "You will be contacted in order to establish the time and location of this meeting." Deputy Mayor Mike Gage and Isaac said the session will be held Monday.
Cunliffe Won't Appear
Cunliffe, Isaac said, will not appear since the law does not require her to be there. Gage said the mayor probably would not attend, either. Gage said he probably would hand Isaac the charges.
The mayor decided to present the charges after receiving a report from a special committee he appointed to investigate allegations of mismanagement of the department, whose purview ranges from building operations and purchasing to management of huge outdoor entertainments such as a country and western festival at the San Fernando Valley's Hansen Dam and the downtown Street Scene.
The committee was appointed by Bradley to investigate allegations that Cunliffe disclosed confidential personnel information about a department employee who criticized her, and that she favored friends and relatives in leasing city-owned property.
Sources close to the committee said the report was critical of Cunliffe, and mentioned possible criminal and civil violations by her, but made no actual recommendations. Cunliffe has said, "I was not interviewed by the committee and I put no credence in their report."
Gage said that after Bradley received the committee report, he asked the city attorney's office to look at the possibility of filing charges that could result in disciplining Cunliffe and "see what was sustainable." The city attorney's report is expected by the end of the week, and the mayor intends to study it over the weekend, said mayoral press secretary Dee Dee Meyers.
When Isaac is handed the charges, it will begin what city Personnel Department chief John J. Driscoll called a "lengthy and painful" process, governed by the Civil Service rules that protect Los Angeles city general managers. Attempts by Bradley and council members to ease those rules have always been turned down by the voters.
Cunliffe will be entitled to reply to Bradley's charges at a hearing. If, after the hearing, the mayor decides to fire or suspend her, the council would have to confirm it, sources in the city attorney's office said. Even a severe reprimand would be subject to council confirmation, the sources said, although they conceded the necessity of council action on a reprimand was in a "gray area" where the law is unclear.
Picus Sees Support
Councilwoman Joy Picus, chair of the council's Personnel and Labor Relations Committee, said Cunliffe has support on the council. For example, she said, Councilmen Joel Wachs, appreciative of Cunliffe's backing of the Valley Country and Western Festival, and Gilbert Lindsay are strong supporters on the 15-member governing body. With a few other supporters and the recent addition of new council members, Picus said the Cunliffe question could "become a circus."
As for herself, Picus said "I would like to see all available information and I would want to hear Sylvia (Cunliffe). All I know now is what I read in the papers. In any trial, you have two sides and we have heard no defense at all. Sylvia has made no defense."
Picus also criticized City Administrative Officer Keith Comrie, a strong force in pushing the investigation of Cunliffe, saying: "I don't believe Mr. Comrie is as objective in his evaluation of Ms. Cunliffe as he customarily is in the information he provides to the City Council on most matters."
Councilman Marvin Braude, on the other hand, said he thought it "very unlikely" that Cunliffe would have much council support.
If Cunliffe loses in the council, she could appeal to the Board of Civil Service Commissioners, and if she is beaten in that forum, can take her case to the state courts.