Archive for May, 2013

The Wednesday morning after the election was a reawakening for the city.

I normally would have grabbed the Times and the News, poured a bowl of Cheerios and settled down to my morning ritual of consuming the latest local developments between mouthfuls of those little toasted Os (for the record, General Foods is not one of my clients).

However, the printed media was not going to cut it that morning; only the internet would do. When it comes to election results, you can’t beat electrons.

It was a brand new day with the potential of offering a new beginning.

Two of the most important offices of the city – mayor and controller – would soon be filled by competent individuals.

There is no guarantee Eric Garcetti and Ron Galperin will work any miracles and put the city back on track, but smart people usually find a way to move things in the right direction.

Here are my words of advice to them:

In most organizations, the CEO and CFO work as a team. Could you imagine the chaos if it were otherwise? But that’s what we have had in Los Angeles, and it needs to change.

Eric Garcetti pledged to make the general managers re-apply for their jobs. It would be a good idea if he involved Galperin in the process. The city controller-elect has a wealth of private sector experience that could be helpful in evaluating the potential of the managers.

Likewise, Galperin should involve Garcetti in establishing audit priorities. Between Garcetti’s knowledge of the city’s bureaucracy and Galperin’s analytical abilities, there is a better chance of targeting areas with the highest potential of value for the audit hours.

Communication was not the strong point of the last administration. Neither Villaraigosa nor Greuel were effective at educating the public about the issues. Sound bites and press releases without elaboration do little to raise awareness or motivate citizens to sound off to their respective council members. Garcetti in particular should borrow a page from Kevin James’ play book. During the campaign, James said he would have conducted regular public outreach through the media if he were elected. What better way to explain what the barriers are to implementing sound public policy? Why should the public have to wait for the City Council to wheel and deal behind closed doors and then face a fait accompli for whatever decisions are made?

The LAUSD was a hot topic during the campaign. My advice to Garcetti – saving the city is a full-time job. Avoid the temptation to involve yourself in the schools, especially when the power rests with the school board. Keep a dialog with the board and provide moral support to activist groups led by parents, but do not take a hands on approach. If the city fails, so will the schools.

The future of the city will largely depend on labor negotiations. Neither Garcetti nor Galperin sold their souls to the public unions; both won impressive victories regardless. Stand firm and fight for the best deal for the citizens. You have the political capital. The most important role Galperin can play in this process is through disclosure of the financial consequences of various wage and benefit scenarios. The public must know what the ramifications are of possible deals before they are cut.

I look forward to following our new officials as they navigate through treacherous rapids in order to reach calm waters.

My best wishes to both of them.

Read Full Post »

Last night’s victories by Eric Garcetti and Ron Galperin represented what could be a turning point in Los Angeles politics. The voters, or at least all 20% of them, chose competence over big PAC money and backroom connections.

It is difficult to say what the message of Feuer’s victory was. Although he scored the most impressive win as far as the margin of difference, his opponent was virtually dead on arrival from day one of the campaign. People were not willing to forgive Trutanich for breaking his promise not to seek another office. It did not help that Nuch handled the negative reaction to his decision so poorly. Brian D’Arcy could have beaten Trutanich in this race. It remains to be seen how well Feuer will fair in managing the equivalent of a major law firm.

In the mayoral campaign, Garcetti’s crisp and articulate performances in the debates, a record of very specific results in his district, standing up to unfair comparisons to Scott Walker and his frank admissions of past mistakes were refreshing compared to Wendy Greuel’s overblown claims of finding waste, fraud and abuse, her alliances with the public unions, absurd promises of adding 3,000 highly paid sworn personnel when the budget can barely handle the current staffing, and very personal negative ads.

It was clear who had the best potential to serve as mayor. Garcetti will face the challenge of a lifetime but at least he has another competent partner to assist him, because Ron Galperin easily won the City Controller’s seat.

Galperin brings a level of technical competence the controller’s office has so desperately needed. It is not enough to read the results of an audit. The controller must be able to analyze the financial statements, provide long-term projections and stir the City Council to action, even if it means ruffling feathers. Dennis Zine would have brought nothing to the job – Greuel part 2.

I look forward to the Garcetti-Galperin era. They will introduce a far more effective management style than any other previous administration.

Good luck to them.

Read Full Post »

I was pretty strong in my criticism of KABC’s Doug McIntyre’s decision to endorse Wendy Greuel.

It wasn’t over whether he made an endorsement, only that his friendship with her gave the perception of allowing a personal relationship to skew his coverage of the campaign. Perception is almost everything.

I know that Doug is frank and honest. I have no doubt he did not allow his personal feelings to factor into the decision. Although his on air conversations with her seemed to be tempered, it is likely because of the difficulty of altering the tone of one’s voice and content of the dialog when talking with or about someone with whom you’ve known for a long time. Nevertheless, he provided each candidate with an equal opportunity. He was always civil. I appreciate Doug’s effort to play things as straight as possible.

He does not see a distinction between the two candidates, so in the absence of a measurable difference on the issues – at least in his mind, it is not surprising that the coin he tossed may have been weighted in favor of Greuel. If I were in a similar situation, I would probably do the same.

But it does point out the importance of recusing oneself from an endorsement when using the public airways if there is personal involvement with one of the candidates. It never looks good to weigh in under those circumstances no matter how sincere the statement…..and I believe Doug was sincere.

Today’s broadcast was particularly awkward. Greuel was on the show and delivered her “closing arguments.” Doug reiterated his support of her candidacy with another disclosure of their relationship. Garcetti declined to appear because Doug had already announced the endorsement last week. That may have been a good thing for Doug as the conversation would probably have come across as restrained. Kevin James appeared as a solid stand-in for Garcetti and effectively pointed out Greuel’s stronger ties with the DWP’s money-hungry union, a point Doug did not counter.

The easy and most sensible course of action for Doug would have been allowing all the candidates to have their say and leaving it at that. However, I applaud him for his honesty and look forward to his future broadcasts. After all, we have a brave new world to face after Tuesday and we need Doug to keep us informed.

Read Full Post »

The IRS has a tough job requiring tough measures.

With a tax gap approaching $400 billion – that’s the estimate of annual unpaid taxes – the big brother of all agencies has its hands full collecting from scofflaws. And honest taxpayers suffer from fewer services and the effects of higher federal debt because of the shortfall.

But the IRS can make even innocent lives miserable just at the thought of the collections powers the revenooers possess.

I understand. There has to be some degree of fear factor to make people comply. However, having the power to expeditiously garnish pay, raid bank accounts and levy liens seems to be inspired by the Nancy Grace concept of justice – you are guilty until executed.

Power can be abused, so it is a good thing when the IRS has to face an angry Congress and White House and take some harsh medicine. As a result of its policy of targeting conservative non-profit groups, the IRS has overreached and deserves a smack-down. Singling out a specific ideology to measure up to a higher bar of compliance treads on freedom of speech, especially in the midst of a national election.

The general public already holds our tax system in low regard; this scandal made it worse. It will make compliance even more difficult as taxpayers push back on Congress to place limits on the agency’s power. The gap will grow faster.

However, for all the noise about whether there are too many non profits acting as a conduit for campaign contributions, you would think the IRS would have looked at the public unions right here in Los Angeles. The millions of dollars they have been lavishing on select candidates certainly cannot be for the benefit of society. The 2013 mayoral campaign set a record for spendingwith public union PACs backing Wendy Greuel setting the pace.

The best solution to this mess is to eliminate PAC and corporate contributions completely.

Fat chance when our elected officials depend on them.

Read Full Post »

Bruce Apple was a therapist. He particularly liked working with kids at Children’s Hospital. He performed his services free of charge.

He was also the consummate host at parties, making guests feel comfortable. He was unassuming and took everything in stride.

His overall demeanor was enviable.

Bruce was a dog…a big dog. I can only imagine the joy he brought to the patients. The children must have been in awe of his size, but comforted by his gentleness.

I don’t know how to honor him, but perhaps a contribution in his name to Children’s Hospital might be appropriate.

Read Full Post »

I am in pretty good spirits as I write this. The 2013 city election campaigns are almost over. Soon I can go back to writing about other topics…and there are a host of them: tax policy, commuter rail, state and local budgets, to name a few, not to mention life in Valley Village and Incline Village.

At this stage, we know almost everything about the candidates. I don’t think we want to know anything more.

To me, this race, like others, boils down to character and potential. That is why I am voting for Garcetti, Galperin and Trutanich.

I surprised myself with that last pick. I was not too happy with Trutanich after the way he handled running for DA, dismissing his promise to stick it out as City Attorney. He also has a tendency to talk way too much at public meetings, leaving little time for Q&A. I always felt he did that deliberately. Feuer, on the other hand, was always open to questions.

My opinion changed after listening to the City Attorney debate at Valley Village. Trutanich acted like an attorney, displaying a passion for defending the city. Feuer cam across as a college professor – he might be great teaching a contracts course in law school, but managing the equivalent of one of the largest law firms in the country is another matter. I do not think he can manage beyond the desk he used in the Assembly.

What swayed me in the end was this simple question: if I were being tried, who would I want to defend me – Feuer or Trutanich?

Galparin was an easy choice. He has far better technical and analytical skills. His professional background is solid, unlike Zine who wrote traffic tickets for a living and voted for every public union raise as a member of the City Council.

I have been in Garcetti’s corner since he won the primary. I backed Kevin James and was glad when he, along with candidates Perry and Pleitez – both of whom I respect, endorsed him.

While Garcetti and Greuel voted almost identically on key issues while serving together on the City Council, Garcetti had the courage to admit his mistakes, including his vote for what turned out to be unsustainable wage packages offered to city employees. Furthermore, when he addressed the unions while seeking their support, he did not apologize for the modest pension reform measures he backed as Council President. It took character to do that. By contrast Greuel all but said the reforms were illegal despite the City’s Attorney’s opinion to the contrary.

Garcetti produced measurable improvements for his district. When I think of Greuel, I think of Valley Plaza, the most notable example of blight in the South Valley.

Garcetti never wavered from a position throughout the campaign, while Greuel promised conflicting stances to satisfy whatever group she was courting at the time.

Most people equate my writings with a crusade against Greuel. I understand, but most are unaware of my past support for the former Council Member and cooperation with her.

I enthusiastically supported Greuel in her first run for City Council. I viewed her as a reformer. My enthusiasm diminished steadily and was replaced with disdain after she supported the IBEW job machine in the form of Measure B, term extensions deceitfully marketed as term limits and the phone tax – another deceitfully worded measure that disguised a tax increase as a tax decrease. She attempted to place all of the blame for Measure B on Garcetti throughout this campaign when she was one of the biggest cheerleaders for it.

After she won the City Controller’s race in 2009, a campaign where she lied about her opponent’s tax status, Greuel and I did have a dialog. At her request, we had one-on-one meetings where we discussed the role of the controller. I still appreciate her willingness to talk to this day.

I gave her space and maintained a neutral stance for several months while I watched how she performed.

The City Controller’s office offers a platform like no other for advocating reform and shining the light on shady dealings. Laura Chick was just getting the hang of it in her last years. She raised the bar. Greuel lowered it.

It became apparent to me that Greuel was simply using it as a stepping stone to the mayor’s office. She was simply interested in rolling out press releases about waste, fraud and abuse, but never followed up. To this day, she has never substantiated her claims of identifying $160 million in savings. If anything, the LA Times exposed it as fiction.

Truly, if there was a basis in fact for the savings, a real controller would have fought to implement the changes necessary to bring them about. She was quiet as a church mouse. Probably too afraid lest she would offend potential backers for her mayoral campaign.

It is also impossible to believe her promise to maintain independence in labor negotiations when her campaign has been bankrolled by the city’s unions. She unequivocally stated she would stand with the unions.

Compensation and benefit reforms are essential to the city’s long-term health. Garceti does not have Greuel’s baggage and can operate from a position of true independence. Will he get everything needed from negotiations? Probably not, but he has a far better chance of making a real deal than Greuel, who will probably settle for window dressing to create the appearance of progress.

And with Greuel, it is all about appearances. Form over substance.

Garcetti has the potential to build true coalitions, and the independence to do so.

Read Full Post »

A recent Mike Feuer mailer compares the candidate to his father.
Scan_Doc0197 copy

Mel Feuer is a true war hero and deserves to be honored for his service.

It is quite another thing that candidate Mike Feuer attempts to connect his father’s war record to his campaign and benefit from it.

Many of us have relatives who participated in World War II; some never returned. We honor and respect them, but would we attempt to play off their individual achievements and sacrifices to attain a personal objective?

We are responsible for our own actions. It is disingenuous to accrue recognition through the actions of others, especially when it is for service to the country.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »