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Carson Shakes Up Government, Strengthens City Administrator

January 08, 1988|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

A far-reaching reorganization took place this week at Carson City Hall, intended to instill sound management where officials say favoritism, political connections and strong personalities have often held sway.

The city administration "has not been run right," Mayor Kay Calas said, adding that she and other officials want to "straighten up City Hall."

The shake-up, the largest departmental realignment since Carson was incorporated in 1968, will take six to eight months to phase in and was approved unanimously by the City Council. This rare consensus on a major issue suggests that the decision is not likely to be reversed by the outcome of elections in April for three council seats.

The most significant change is the reduced role of Howard Homan, director of parks and recreation, Carson's largest department, whose responsibilities had been greatly expanded over the years. Homan, who supervises several popular programs and until recently enjoyed a close relationship with some council members, had become a powerful political figure in Carson.

Other department heads will pick up Homan's responsibilities, but the big winner in the reorganization is City Administrator Dick Gunnarson because it clearly puts his stamp on City Hall. By concentrating on departmental responsibilities rather than personalities, he won support for his plan from council members Sylvia Muise and Tom Mills, who had walked out when Gunnarson was appointed in May.

Persistent Problems

Along with the departmental realignment, officials say that they are trying to solve some persistent problems outlined in a management consultant's report recommending the reorganization.

The $80,000 report, produced by the Orange-based Ewing Co. last spring, said extensive questionnaires and interviews with employees indicated that staff morale and communications had been poor. The consultant said employees and council members have regularly bypassed the chain of command and that the city administrator spent an excessive amount of time handling council members' requests for action or information.

Under the council-manager form of municipal government, the City Council sets policy and the city manager or administrator implements it. Communications between the council and staff are normally carried out through the manager.

The consultant's report did not detail specific violations of that management principle and did not present any solutions, concentrating instead on the reorganization of responsibilities of each of the city's six departments and the city administrator's office. The council similarly talked only of departmental tasks when the reshuffle was approved.

But Gunnarson said that the reorganization will strengthen the chain of command because some previously overloaded department heads will now be able to respond to council concerns, through the city administrator, more quickly.

"Bypassing the chain of command is not necessarily an organizational problem," he said. "It is created by a lack of confidence."

In past council meetings, members have accused one another of violating administrative procedures in dealing with the staff and in making appointments. In private, council members and other officials tell of several cases, involving both rank-and-file employees and high city officials, in which campaign workers have wound up on the city payroll or where personal and political relationships have aided or hurt job advancement and program proposals.

To cite one notable example, the current city administrator, Gunnarson, was forced out as community development director in 1983 because he opposed the plans of subsequently convicted political corrupter W. Patrick Moriarty to build a mobile home park over a former landfill, according to Gunnarson's testimony in the corruption trial of former Carson Councilman Walter J. (Jake) Egan. Egan was convicted of fraud and extortion.

Gunnarson and Calas said that some of the problems cited in the Ewing report, which was compiled before Gunnarson became city administrator, have been alleviated.

Gunnarson said that the staff responds quicker and he is not spending as much time answering requests from the council. As a result, he said, council members are not dealing directly with staff members as often.

"That has tapered off over the six months that I have been here because the council now gets a response. When they have a problem, we are really looking into it. It's not just lost in a corner," he said.

"Part of the thing that was wrong was (council members) weren't getting information, and that can lead to embarrassment. We are trying to improve that. They were getting incomplete staff work and that makes it pretty difficult too."

Employee Morale

The council members are divided over whether morale is any better since Gunnarson succeeded City Administrator John Dangleis, who resigned under pressure.

"On the whole, they are a happier bunch of employees than before," Mayor Calas said.

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