In an embarrassing about-face, Mayor Richard Riordan was forced Wednesday to rescind a recent merit raise he gave to Police Chief Bernard C. Parks after Riordan's staff discovered that, under the new City Charter, only the Police Commission has the authority to boost the chief's pay.
"After reviewing . . . the charter, I realized that I had incorrectly advised the mayor with respect to its applicability to the chief of police," Deputy Mayor Kelly Martin wrote in a letter to City Controller Rick Tuttle late Wednesday.
Riordan's office approved the 3% merit increase--about $7,500--on Dec. 26 to bring Parks' salary to $257,116, making him the highest-paid official in the city. An official with the city controller's office said Wednesday that Parks' pay raise probably went into effect in January.
It was unclear whether the chief would have to pay that money back.
"It's not something we've seen before," said Louisa Lund, administrative deputy controller. "We're going to discuss it with the city attorney and see what the proper procedure is."
Parks could not be reached for comment.
Acting Police Commission President Raquelle de la Rocha said the civilian board would take up the issue of a raise for Parks in the next two or three weeks.
"I believe the proper response is for the commission to do its own independent evaluation on the merits of a raise," she said.
Riordan was roundly criticized by police reform advocates for giving Parks a raise and then firing Police Commission President Gerald Chaleff Feb. 5 after lamenting the state of the department's leadership.
The mayor defended his actions, saying that Parks was responsive to his concerns and would be making changes in the LAPD.
City Councilman Joel Wachs, who had lambasted Riordan for giving Parks the raise, tried unsuccessfully to get the City Council to review the issue last week.
"With the department in the condition it is in now, morale at all-time low, I think it makes a mockery of the merit pay plan to say that's the best we can do," Wachs said Wednesday. "You take away any incentive to improve."
Under the old City Charter, a committee of representatives from the Police Commission, City Council and mayor's office determined raises for the police chief.
Martin said she thought that, under the new charter, Riordan had the authority to give Parks a raise directly. The language actually states that the Police Commission must authorize a pay increase. The mayor does have the authority to give other general managers pay increases of as much as 5%.
"There is no doubt I will bow out of this with a very red face," she said, adding that she planned to offer Parks a "mea culpa" for the mistake.
The gaffe is even more mortifying because the mayor's office--and Martin specifically--played a key role in drafting the new charter.
But USC law professor Erwin Chemerinsky, who was chairman of the Elected Los Angeles Charter Reform Commission, said such mistakes are unavoidable when a city changes its governing document.
"It's embarrassing," he said. "But it has so many provisions, it's inevitable that people forget some of the details that are there. This is going to happen."