In the wake of recent messy attempts to dump two city officials, a Los Angeles City Council committee on Wednesday began studying a plan to make it easier to hire and fire municipal department heads.
If eventually approved by voters in the form of a City Charter amendment, the plan submitted by the city's Personnel Department would remove 31 general managers and bureau chiefs from the Civil Service system, which provides job protection to most city employees.
Among the plan's key elements would be the elimination of a crazy-quilt of city laws now providing that some city department heads are hired and fired by the mayor and the council while others are under the control of citizen panels such as the police and fire commissions.
Voter approval would usher in a plan where all department chiefs would serve virtually at the pleasure of the mayor and the council.
Other features of the plan would permit the mayor and the council more flexibility in disciplining department heads. Under present strictures, there are certain general managers that the mayor may not suspend, but may fire outright. Current department heads, however, would not be affected by the proposed changes.
Members of the council's Personnel and Labor Relations Committee said Wednesday they would attempt to place the proposal on the June ballot.
Three nearly identical attempts to simplify procedures for hiring and firing general managers have been rejected by the city's voters--in 1980, 1983 and 1984. But proponents of the idea feel that this time the concept will win widespread approval because of recent experiences with Fred Croton and Sylvia Cunliffe, both general managers who left city service after highly controversial efforts by Mayor Tom Bradley to fire them.
Until recently, Croton headed the Cultural Affairs Department and Cunliffe the General Services Department. Within a week, both department heads agreed to leave city service, but not without becoming involved in highly publicized and lengthy fights to keep their jobs.
In Croton's case, he resigned after nearly two years of investigations into whether he had lied on his job application when he first sought his city position in 1980. Even after Bradley moved to fire him, Croton did not resign until it was clear that he lacked the council support to override the mayor.
Had Croton not resigned and the council fired him, the former general manager still would have the right to challenge his dismissal in the courts.
In an apparent reference to the Croton case, one provision of the proposed Charter amendment would make it a misdemeanor to make "any false statement . . . under oath . . . in conjunction with the recruitment and selection process."
Cunliffe, hired under a different City Charter section, stood a better chance of retaining her post. Bradley had placed her on a paid leave of absence in June and she might have remained on it for several months more if last week she had not agreed to retire in a settlement with the council.
A key factor in the council's agreement to settle with Cunliffe was the knowledge that firing her outright could trigger a costly legal fight both before the Civil Service Commission and in the courts.