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Wed, Jul

Charting Change: Could Charter Reform Rectify LA County's $45.5 Billion Management Challenge?

LOS ANGELES

COUNTY DYSFUNCTION - Does this headless monster known as LA county government effectively represent its some 10 million residents?  

With roughly 110,000 well paid and compensated employees over 38 different departments, is there any sense of financial accountability or delivery of services?  

More importantly, can five embedded elected politicians earning nearly $300,000 annually when you consider salary as well as health benefits and pensions for life, has county government become a cancer on the body politic?  

Larger than 40 states in terms of population, Los Angeles County is twice the size of Cook County of Illinois but is governed by a Board President with sixteen additional members or seventeen in total.  

Here in Los Angeles, we have five supervisor districts the size of roughly three congressional districts where incumbency is a free pass to three terms or twelve years of service, as it is nearly impossible to defeat a sitting supervisor.  

For even a self-funding candidate would have trouble competing, much less winning.  

Despite being half the size of LA County, Cook County spending is roughly $10 billion dollars and has a body of governance 4 times smaller in terms of real cost.  

Why is that? 

And while the charade continues that these are “non-partisan” offices, the ability for a challenger to mount a serious effort is far and few between.  

For the emphasis of each elected supervisor is to represent their district first and foremost, so where is the vision for a countywide plan or consensus?  

The void at the top is a directly elected county executive that would lead Los Angeles the same way a mayor leads a municipality, or a governor leads a state.  

While the current chair of the board conducts the meetings, it is not a position of greater power or authority of the other four supervisors.  

For the sheer size of the county warrants a standing Charter Study Commission elected by the voters that’s only job is the effective delivery of services and the successful management of this mammoth budget that is overwhelming and set by the very bureaucrats who profit by this unbridled spending and power that has run amok and gone astray! 

For whom is a custodian or guardian for taxpayers in this equation of endless spending and zero accountability to virtually anyone?  

Think about the salary of current District Attorney George Gascon who earns just over $400,000, more than any governor as well as the President of the United States!  

The current Sheriff is not far behind at $384,000, while the Assessor, also a full-time elected administrator earns roughly $260,000. And while judges earn $232,399, the average county manager is earning close to $200,000 and it begs the question, why so much for apparently so little in return in the delivery of services?  

While property and sales taxes fund county government along with a plethora of state and federal dollars, where is the justification for the costs that seem to be on automatic pilot with no end in sight.  

For who is truly in charge?  

With five legislators and no executive at the top, who is looking at the county’s overall goals, objectives and future?  

For it is convenient for these members to virtually do as they please as that was self-evident when they took the position of sheriff hostage, even though the sheriff is a duly elected, countywide law enforcement official that must bend to the knee of these five supervisors for funding.  

If LA County had a directly elected executive, that individual would prepare a budget, have veto power over potential power grabs like we witnessed in the race for sheriff in 2022.  

For at the county level, we are talking about billions of dollars:  

  • Health Services with 23,000 employees, 750,000 patients and a $6.2 billion dollar budget
  • A Sheriff’s Office with 19,000 employees, 10,000 sworn officers and some $5 billion allocated for law enforcement and another $1 billion dollars in Probation services
  • The District Attorney’s Office has a budget of nearly $500 million 
  • The Los Angeles County Fire Department has over 3,000 employees and a $1.6 billion dollar cost 

For these costs continue to rise at an alarming rate, and who at the end of the day is watching the proverbial store?  

For the mere size of LA County dictates someone be accountable and that a serious revision of the charter be considered to address the current deficiencies in the operation and management of this oversized and bloated bureaucracy.  

Create the position of a directly elected county executive, expand the size of the board of supervisors from five to fifteen, similar to that of the Los Angeles City Council. Have the County Executive appoint the sheriff, district attorney and assessor with the advice and consent of an expanded legislative body, much in the way LA selects a chief of police. Expand that law enforcement appointment to a national search of applicants beyond members of the Sheriff’s Office.  

Voters are bogged down in voting for positions they know little about or the responsibilities or the effective resume required to lead an office such as district attorney, where partisan affiliation is now more important than competence and qualifications.  

But voters understand the role of a mayor, governor or president, and creating the position of county executive would result in a directly elected position that would be in-charge, as well as a place of authority and long-term planning for LA County that is woefully deficient as few, if any resident can actually name their own supervisor and what they do unless they happen to be an employee of this directorate of red tape, overspending and complete mismanagement of governmental direction or meaning.  

(Nick Antonicello is a thirty-one year resident of Venice who covers all things politics, policy and reform. Have a take or tip on the politics of LA? Contact Antonicello via e-mail at [email protected].)

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