The Los Angeles Fire Department is run by a chief but overseen by a board of commissioners that, to do its job, must be able to delve deeply into the department's inner workings. It should have been unnecessary for the commissioners to go to voters, fire hats in hand, to ask to amend the city charter to make it even clearer that they had the authority to exercise their oversight. Yet in March 2009, that's just what they did when they sought approval of Proposition A to create the position of independent assessor, with the power to audit, assess and review the department's handling of complaints against employees.
Voters, weary of being presented ballot questions on the pickiest of administrative details that ought to be handled in the course of business by competent city leaders, nevertheless approved the measure — and no doubt expected that the department and commissioners could finally tend to their business.
So why is it that, three years later, the commission still must do battle with the chief and city lawyers over whether Independent Assessor Stephen Miller really does have the power to read department records and interview employees? The very existence of Miller's position — not to mention his now-enumerated charter powers to "audit, assess and review" the handling of misconduct complaints, conduct "any audit or assessment" requested by the commission and "initiate any assessment or audit" of the department — should have put to rest any question of his authority.