City Hall often seems to be haunted by some ghostly hand reaching from a dusty and long-dead charter provision to grab city government, shake out all voter-imposed reforms and yank it back into the outmoded ways of the past. This week's outrageous payout of $95,000 to fired Los Angeles Transportation General Manager Gloria Jeff is the latest such horror. Jeff's virtual extortion, ratified by City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and Councilman Bernard C. Parks, scoffs at voter demands that city government be more accountable.
City department managers were once the governmental undead, virtually immune from firing. A mayor could dump a top manager only if the City Council agreed, and even then, the manager was protected by the Civil Service system and could be removed only for cause. Voters could pick a new mayor and expect new policies, but department chiefs would just dig in their heels and continue doing whatever they wanted. Sure, they'd say, we'll leave. If you pay us a lot of money to go.
Voters responded by stripping department chiefs of Civil Service protection, then by removing the City Council from the firing process. Since 2000, city department managers have been a cabinet of at-will managers, answerable to a mayor with (finally) true executive powers. Now if traffic isn't improving, voters can hold the mayor to account. He can no longer simply shrug his shoulders and blame some unresponsive bureaucrat he can't get rid of.