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They Don't Take Perks as a Given : Politics: New L.A. City Council members are forgoing certain pleasures of their offices to demonstrate that they mean business.

September 09, 1993|GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

First, Rudy Svorinich Jr. turned over his city cars--all seven of them--to the LAPD.

Then Laura Chick gave the Police Department three cars and $50,000 from her office budget.

Jackie Goldberg didn't turn over any Los Angeles city cars or city cash to another department. But she did hang a "No Gifts" sign outside her second-floor office at City Hall.

And Richard Alarcon, well, he's mulling over ways to remind everyone he has arrived.

After two months in office, Los Angeles' four new City Council members are trying to make their mark in ways that are symbolic, substantive or both. From cutting office budgets to refusing some perks, the new lawmakers want to show their colleagues they mean business.

Svorinich, for example, announced on his first day in office that neither he nor his staff would take any of the seven city cars allocated for official business to each of the 15 council offices. Instead, the former paint store owner turned over the cars to two LAPD divisions in his district--one in San Pedro, the other near Watts.

When he or his staff are on city business, Svorinich said, they will do what is done in most businesses--take their own cars and get paid for mileage. And that goes for Svorinich too. Other times, he said, they will use one of the city's pool of vehicles for business meetings.

"In these times of lean budgets, I believe it's an extravagance for city officials to take cars at taxpayers' expense, especially when I know there is a greater need in the Police Department," Svorinich said.

Now before anyone gets the wrong idea, Svorinich hasn't totally shunned perks. His office did accept four cellular phones and two pagers to keep in contact with field deputies. But that's largely because the LAPD couldn't use the phones, Svorinich said. And the councilman also took the unusual step of closing three small field offices--in Wilmington, Harbor City and Harbor Gateway--to beef up the staff at his two larger offices.

The councilman's senior deputy, Renee Du Ket, said that before Svorinich took office, the 15th District's field offices were often empty because council aides were out on city business. So Svorinich decided to close smaller offices and assign aides to one of two larger offices.

"Instead of calling an office and getting no response," Du Ket said, constituents call either of the large offices, where they will get a council staffer--not an answering machine.

Besides, if the choice is between fewer offices and more staff, Du Ket said, the offices will lose out because Svorinich needs aides to be assigned outside City Hall. Noting that San Pedro--the southern tip of the district--is 30 miles from City Hall, Du Ket said it is critical that the 15th District have plenty of staff in the field.

In much the same spirit, West Valley Councilwoman Chick is giving three of her office's cars to the LAPD for local patrols. The other cars will be available to her staff for city business, and only one aide--chief field deputy Eric Rose--will be assigned a car permanently.

"To me, a definition of perk is a little extra stroke, it is not one of those essential things that contribute to doing a job well," Chick said. As such, Chick said, she also will continue to drive her own car--a 1987 Nissan.

"I'm just as effective a council person in my own car," she said.

Chick also took $50,000 from her office budget--$5,000 of it from her own salary--and gave it to the LAPD. The money will be used to pay overtime for a police patrol unit in her district.

Before taking the actions, Chick said, she spoke to several colleagues about joining her.

"I went to some of the senior council members. I wanted it to be a 15-member united front, maybe looking at voluntary pay cuts. I felt very strongly about that," she said.

But her colleagues rejected the idea. "It just wasn't open to discussion," she said.

"Now to be fair, we are talking about council members with existing staff and existing salaries. I didn't have to deal with cutting staff or cutting salaries," Chick acknowledged.

Councilwoman Goldberg, while forgoing cuts to her office budget, has made it clear she will break with many of her colleagues by not accepting any of the many gifts--from baseball tickets to fruit baskets--that are routinely given to elected officials.

Just as some other council offices have signs that warn visitors "No Smoking," Goldberg's office includes a sign that admonishes: "No Gifts."

The sign has irritated some at City Hall, who think Goldberg has implied they can be bought with gifts. "It's offensive," said one City Hall veteran, echoing the comments of many.

But that offense was never Goldberg's intention, the councilwoman and her chief deputy, Sharon Delugach, say.

"She just feels very strongly about not accepting gifts," said Delugach, recalling that a potential campaign contributor also took issue with Goldberg's refusal to accept a donation.

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