Archive for July, 2011

The LAUSD tried to quantify how much homework should count towards a final grade.  The quantity and quality of homework should always be considered and evaluated, but it is a subjective assessment best left in the hands of the classroom teachers. No two classrooms are alike; therefore, cookie cutter policies won’t cut it.

The school system would make better use of its time supporting its teachers in encouraging the completion of homework.  That would require reaching out to parents – easier said than done, but any increased involvement from them would go further than setting an arbitrary benchmark.

And what else has the LAUSD been working on?

The Board adopted a resolution 6-1 in favor of supporting grocery store workers in their negotiations with supermarkets. The resolution has no requirement for homework completion, so do not be surprised if there are spelling errors on the picket signs.

Tamar Galatzan was the lone vote against this insane proposal, which does nothing to improve the quality of education and should not have been on the agenda.

Stay tuned – the LAUSD is expected to rule on whether Casey Anthony should appear on the Bachelorette or Dancing with the Stars.

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The hot debate over requiring out-of-state internet retailers (such as Amazon) to collect and remit sales taxes to California could have one major unintended consequence:  it may drive internet-based commerce sales even higher.

Don Draper and his associates at Sterling Cooper could not have concocted a more effective advertising campaign.

If shoppers had not given much thought to making their purchases through out-of-state internet sites before, they will now.  The California legislature may as well have taken out full-page ads in all of the newspapers proclaiming up to 10% off on all purchases made on Amazon.Com.

Our electeds in Sacramento did what Amazon could not do.  I am unaware of the popular internet retailer ever alluding to the potential tax advantages of  ordering through its website; probably for good reason – it would be encouraging tax evasion.  

If sales taxes are not collected by the retailer, buyers are required to report and pay use tax on all goods purchased for consumption or service in their home states. Most businesses comply with use tax reporting requirements.  They are more easily audited than individuals and at greater risk for penalties for failure to do so.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, internet sales are expected to grow from 9% of total sales to 30% over the next few decades. In my view, the recent free publicity concerning the “discount” consumers get from on-line purchases could drive that market share much higher in states with significant sales tax rates.

If Amazon severs its relationships with the California companies feeding its order stream, the state has no authority or leverage to compel the giant retailer – or any similar operation – to collect sales tax.  It would be totally up to the individual consumers to make a complete report of their purchases and remit the use tax to Sacramento.

Yup.  We can count on that and Santa Claus.

But that is essentially what our legislators were assuming when they approved the budget for next year.

It is time to deal with reality and not rely on dubious assumptions. Internet sales will continue to grow and consumers will always underreport their purchases.

It is time for the state to formulate an agreement with the on-line retailers that ensures we get to at least wet our beaks.  Say, a reduced sales tax rate for internet sales. Any agreement should include traditional brick-and-mortar retailers who offer on-line sales.

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According to the Los Angeles Times, Council Member Dennis Zine cites as one of his reasons for running for City Controller is wanting to make the city more transparent and efficient. He claims his position as Chair of the Audits and Government Efficiency Committee has prepared him for the job although he has only served in that capacity for three short months.

If the general fund could earn a dollar for each time a candidate promises transparency and efficiency, there would never be a deficit.

Mr. Zine has served on the City Council for ten years, plenty of time to rail against lack of transparency and inefficiency.  Yet, he has only recently raised concerns over the lack of follow-up on audits and incompetent or underperforming general managers. Could it be because he has decided to run for controller?

Regardless of committee assignments, audits and efficiency should be among all council members’ top priorities. 

Why has he not publicly challenged his colleagues about ignoring half of the City Controller audits going back to Laura Chick’s tenure? Why does it take an FBI investigation of the Building and Safety Department before he makes a public statement about crooked or incompetent management? Why does he sit silently when an interim general manager with one of the worst track records in the city is confirmed to fill the position on a permanent basis without so much as a competitive process?

Nothing could be less transparent than the dealings between the city and AEG over the proposed downtown stadium, yet Zine may as well have sealed his mouth with duct tape. There are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake for the general fund with this deal. Who is protecting the interests of the city’s residents?  At least Council Members Krekorian, and Rosendahl are fighting for an open discussion and challenging environmental exemptions for the project. Zine and the person he wants to replace as controller, Wendy Greuel, have done nothing in support of transparency on this issue.  You would think that the City Controller and the (Z)Man Who Would be Controller might weigh in.

The most significant threat to the city’s solvency and ability to provide affordable services are rising pension costs.  It was a year ago that Dennis Zine said he was focused on pension reform. Maybe he lost his glasses since then, but focused is not a term that can describe Zine’s role in restructuring the city’s pension and healthcare plans.  Recent labor deals have produced only weak concessions from the public unions.  Zine has been a quiet bystander.

One thing is for certain – his concept of pension reform, to the extent it might exist, does not eliminate double dipping.  Zine and Bernard Parks both enjoy their hefty city salaries and pension benefits.

Zine likes to point to his charitable contributions as if to justify the dual stream of taxpayer-funded financial support he receives.  I am sure he is sincere in his advocacy of the selected beneficiaries, but it is safe to assume he accrues, and enjoys, some political capital for the contributions as well.

Unfortunately, Wendy Greuel has turned the office of controller into a political stepping stone.  Zine wants to use it to enhance his pension benefits. 

He is not prepared to act as a responsible gatekeeper of the city’s finances. The fact he has supported bogus budgets year after year, backed one of the most lucrative compensation packages ever offered by the city (which went to the IBEW) and was surprised by the impact of ERIP tells me he is someone who would have trouble balancing his own checking account. 

On the plus side, he did generate revenue by writing traffic citations as a police officer, that is assuming the fines were ever collected – something else he failed to notice as a council member until recently.

One of these days the voters will realize it takes more than a career politician to understand the financial challenges this city faces. 

I can only hope Zine faces a serious challenger with the resources to mount a campaign so Z Man’s suitability and plan for the office can be debated in public.

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The old proverb about not being able to see the forest for the trees can be applied to the package of four motions, introduced by Council Member Paul Krekorian, that are intended to reform the neighborhood council system. That appeared to be the prevailing message from the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition, at least in my opinion.

The coalition met on July 2nd.  About thirty members representing a broad cross section of neighborhood councils attended. Not a bad turnout for a holiday weekend.

Mr. Krekorian invested significant time in attempting to understand problems that have sucked much of the life out of the movement, which was created by a charter amendment in 1999 in response to a broad feeling of citizen disenfranchisement from the city’s government.

Neighborhood Councils are appreciative of Krekorian’s efforts.  He has spent more time representing the interests of the councils and their stakeholders than any one or group of elected officials heretofore.

Nevertheless, the four motions appear to be little more than a laundry list of concerns that were raised at workshops and in response to questionnaires developed by the Council Member; all of them have been raised before.

There is no cohesive strategy in the package.  Krekorian should have taken a step back and reviewed the motions in the context of the entire system before submitting them. He would have been better off asking the various Neighborhood Council coalitions to develop a strategy to fix the broken governance at DONE and used that as the foundation for a formal motion instead of the grab bag the reform package represents.

The very content of the motions should have made it apparent to Krekorian that there is one, basic, all-encompassing problem that needs to be resolved before anything else – the management of DONE.

Think about it – why does any organization require a motion to provide training; to have a satisfactory accounting system; implement a process to settle grievances; to facilitate communications with stakeholders? 

These are fundamental management responsibilities.

Any sensible person reading through the motions would wonder why the head of the department hasn’t been fired if such conditions existed for so long…..and they have existed for a long time.

BH Kim, who was recently confirmed as the permanent general manager of DONE ( a position he has filled since the passing of Carol Baker Tharp in 2007), was there. When asked if his department could implement the motions, his answer was “yes.” There was no hesitation in his voice or qualification, but the response from the attendees was utter silence.  The silence did not represent consent – it was shock, with a dose of politeness towards an official who sacrificed a Saturday morning to listen. However, Kim did catch an earful about his department when each of the motions was dissected and discussed.

Without competent management at  DONE, the motions may as well be a letter to Santa Claus.  Without a change at the top, the neighborhood councils will still be fighting for most, if not all, of the motions’ objectives two years from now.  By then, the system could be on life support as its best and brightest throw in the towel.

There are many people in City Hall who would welcome that.

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