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A Chance for Hahn to Leave the Doghouse

The mayor should listen to activists as he selects a new shelter manager. Then, he would do well to rethink some other appointments.

March 14, 2004|Marc B. Haefele | Marc B. Haefele, news editor of the Los Angeles Alternative Press, is heard on KPCC (89.3 FM) on Fridays.

As chief of Los Angeles Animal Services, Jerry Greenwalt may not have been the most important manager in L.A.'s city government. But his announced retirement in April provides Mayor James K. Hahn with at least two opportunities: to improve his most cantankerous city agency, and to show that he can clean up the appointive city bureaucracy he created, not always thoughtfully, after his 2001 election.

Apart from police and fire, probably no city agency has a higher human-interest profile than Animal Services. There are tens of thousands of active animal lovers -- they call themselves the "humane community" -- and they were, almost without exception, opposed to Greenwalt's way of running things at the department. This was partly Greenwalt's fault. He was a lifer bureaucrat who, his critics contend, dragged his feet when he didn't ignore such long-sought reforms as more neutering, more adoptions and deep reductions in euthanizing stray and unwanted animals. Greenwalt's apparent delay in implementing the mayor's no-kill animal policy may have been a factor in his retirement decision.

Some fault also lies with Hahn because his first firing as mayor was Dan Knapp, Greenwalt's innovative predecessor. Knapp had the sense to listen to and even recruit animal lovers as shelter and outreach volunteers, a policy that declined under Greenwalt. That made Knapp popular with many animal activists and with members of the city family.

Greenwalt must have heard what his constituency had to say, but he didn't seem to be listening. Animal activists say they did their best to work through the system before fringe elements began holding demonstrations on Greenwalt's front lawn. Hahn reflexively backed Greenwalt even as he should have suspected there might have been good reasons why the Animal Services chief was so wildly unpopular -- and not just with those wearing skull masks and chanting, "Killer!"

Greenwalt's replacement should be both big enough for the job and able to revive and carry on the improvements begun by Knapp. One candidate should be Marcia Mayeda, who runs the county's animal regulation agency. She's toughened up enforcement and humanized her system, getting top grades from her bosses and animal activists.

After rectifying his mistake at Animal Services, Hahn should take a closer look at some other unpopular appointees, especially now that a couple of grand juries are looking into "pay to play" activities involving city commissions. Deputy Mayor Troy Edwards, Airport Commission President Ted Stein and former Airport and DWP Commissioner Leland Wong have all been mentioned in informal claims of questionable fundraising for Hahn.

While Airport Commission president under former Mayor Richard Riordan, Stein got into trouble when he authorized the hiring of attorney Webster Hubbell to lobby for the city shortly before the former Hillary Rodham Clinton law partner was sent to prison. More recently, the commission Stein heads gave Tutor-Saliba Corp. a $33-million contract to overhaul the Van Nuys FlyAway terminal. It was an interesting choice. Tutor-Saliba's concrete work on the Metro Red Line tunnel was criticized as shoddy. Now, its concrete work on the flyaway expansion has been halted by city inspectors for similar reasons. The company's president, his employees and their spouses gave more than $214,000 to Hahn's election campaign and the mayor's anti-Valley-secession effort.

Wong recently resigned from the Department of Water and Power commission after his employer found that he had misused company funds when recycling about $250,000 worth of Staples Center tickets owned by Stein's law firm. City Council members Cindy Miscikowski and Jack Weiss have demanded Edwards' head for allegedly bullying a potential city contractor who proposed to hire the Rand Corp. after the think tank produced a report critical of Hahn's proposed airport expansion.

All this makes Hahn's sudden conversion to banning political fundraising by city commissioners suspect. The mayor's tough proposals to take city commissioners completely out of the fundraising game seems entirely too defensive. The city Ethics Commission wonders whether the proposals are even legal.

Hahn's reelection effort might be better served if he lightened his appointee baggage. With Greenwalt scheduled to leave in April and Wong already gone, animal activists who oppose the mayor are merely asking to be heard in the selection of a new Animal Services chief. That's already a lot better than having to listen to hostile chants. If Hahn picks a good new executive, the credit will be his. He might as well bask in the glory of appointing three more similarly worthy replacements for his commissions and inner circle.

Hahn doesn't like to take advice. But as Michael Bell, the "Rugrats" voice actor who sometimes speaks for animal activists, put it, "When everyone says you're drunk, you should at least lie down." Or, failing that, Hahn should understand that his political appointments are supposed to be for the sake of the city, not for his sake.

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