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Tuesday, Aug 16, 2022
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Oped

Los Angeles city government can learn a lot from private enterprises. Businesses that have survived and thrived, even in tough economic times, typically have a story to tell of reduced costs, enhanced services and increased customer satisfaction. Those qualities would serve as great goals for the city of Los Angeles, as we work to make local government the responsible and accountable system Los Angeles residents so want and deserve. What business ever moves forward without first identifying a plan for the future or a vision to succeed? City government should be no different. In fact, currently the city of Portland produces a “Service Efforts and Accomplishments Report” of the city’s largest and most visible programs to help citizens evaluate service performance and improve programs. In Seattle, the Mayor and council meet in public session on a periodic basis in a working retreat setting to discuss collective goals and objectives for the year. Even in our own city, general managers of city departments annually determine ways to improve city management and attain high standards of performance. I believe the Los Angeles City Council should do the same. By setting and publishing real goals, complete with timelines for achievement, city government can serve its constituents better. Additionally, our city budget and ensuing council business should reflect these agreed-upon goals. Such a proposal will not only help the City Council focus on a citywide vision and an effective legislative agenda, but it will also help to increase customer satisfaction, which should be a central theme in everything city government does. Similarly, the City Council and the rest of government should be held accountable for meeting those goals just as business executives are for meeting financial predictions. A progress report should be provided to the public on an annual basis helping residents to ensure their government is really working for them. Another issue business seems to handle better than local government is the hiring of outside vendors. When it makes sense, a business secures a contract for products and services it can’t provide itself. But does a business do so blindly? No. Neither should a city government. The city of Los Angeles spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year contracting for products and services from private-sector vendors. Yet, there have been only weak safeguards in place to ensure cost containment, product quality and timely delivery of city-contracted goods and services. In an effort to ensure the city is getting what it has paid for, I introduced a motion earlier this year, which was passed unanimously by the council, to get stronger safeguards in place. This motion also suggests the creation of a report-card system for contractors and subcontractors, so all city departments can consider past performance before awarding additional contracts. In addition, I have called for meaningful penalties and tough sanctions to be imposed when a contractor’s performance fails to satisfy contract provisions. Such efforts by the city to do better when contracting for goods and services should help Los Angeles to achieve those same kinds of enhanced services successful businesses offer their customers. Finally, businesses take aggressive steps to manage risk and to solve problems. When a company anticipates a problem, or responds to the aftermath of an accident, it finds a solution promptly. If it didn’t, how could it afford to keep its doors open? Again, I argue, city government should act similarly and proactively address liability concerns. Recently, a court-imposed financial settlement in Los Angeles against the city was levied at $750,000. It appeared that an unrepaired city road may have contributed to a serious accident. Yet, the installation of signs warning motorists of the road conditions and the completion of inexpensive road repairs was delayed more than 30 months. The fact that it could take two-and-a-half years to correct a road hazard, even after the city had been sued, is astounding and clearly demonstrates the lack of a sound risk-management policy. I have introduced a motion asking the Bureau of Street Maintenance to create and lead an interagency communication network to alert city agencies to unsafe roadway conditions, so these problems can be corrected quickly. Also, I have asked that the city attorney report on how its department makes other agencies aware of hazardous situations that are alleged in lawsuits, so they, too, can be corrected as necessary. These steps closely mirror business plans private enterprises put into place to reduce potential risk and liability. The bottom line: Valley residents, as well as residents all over the city, are seeking responsible and accountable government. Los Angeles city government can become both more responsible and more accountable by adopting some of these common-sense approaches utilized by our successful businesses. Laura Chick represents the West San Fernando Valley on the Los Angeles City Council.

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