Sunday, September 24, 2006

Who really does the City's work: Council Staff

The full-time, 15-member Los Angeles City Council has the highest paid city councilmembers in the nation. Locally, other cities (like Long Beach) have fulltime councilmembers with staff, but none are as noteworthy or grand as Los Angeles' political staffers. With the recent post by CD13's Joseph Bernardo aboutRockwood Park along with the regular postings of staffers onCD11's blog, I was reminded of the extensive amount of work that the staff of the Los Angeles City Councilmembers undertake. That, coupled with the recent three week summer hiatus the Council took, further revealed that though the Councilmembers may have a vision (some more than others) it really comes down to their staff to get the work done. (During the time of the council recess, the City still functioned even though council was not in session and many of the members were out of town.)

Some Councilmembers have 13 staff members, some have 24; but no matter the number of staff or how well they are paid, one thing holds true: a councilmember is only as good as his or her staff.

Now, most Councilmembers have a basic staff structure of a City Hall Staff (a Chief of Staff, an executive assistant/scheduler, a receptionist, a Planning Deputy, at least one legislative deputy (often more, though), a communications director, and council aides (to answer phones, process requests, etc.) and a Field Staff (District Director, Field Deputies, council aides, and support staff). Now, there are some variants on this formula, but this is generally what is followed. Often times, the City Hall staff is seen as the higher level staffers (going from "the field" to City Hall is often considered a promotion); but the Field staff is sometimes more important than the City Hall staff. It's the Field staff that can get things done that most impact our neighborhoods; they are the ones who know what's going on in the nooks and crannies of the communities in which they work. No matter what happens in City Hall, if the people in the field cannot represent the Councilmember well, follow through with requests from the community, and proactively work for the betterment of the community - then the Councilmember is doomed to failure. (And remember that this "staffer" job could be a career. Just look at the current City Councilmembers who were staffers: Ed Reyes, Tom LaBonge, Jan Perry, Greig Smith, & Herb Wesson were all once council staffers, and Alex Padilla, Wendy Greuel & Herb Wesson were staffers at other levels of government.)

So, the question is: what makes a good staffer?

Is a returned phone call good enough, or is the resolution of the issue what makes a staffer effective? Though the Councilmembers are the highest paid in the nation, the staff sometimes is not. Remember, we pay their salaries - are we getting our money's worth? The Field staff often puts in long hours at meetings, and City Hall staffers stay late into the night reading reports and researching legislation and issues.

There is also the question of whether the Councilmembers should have these staff members at all - or at least such a large number. Recently, they voted to support the removal of the staffers for the LA School Boardmembers as part of the Mayor's school takeover plan - was that hypocritical?

There are a lot of questions about these council staff members, but all this leads to the disclaimer that these people are just that: people. Often times the field staff are given a hard time, berated with questions, and publicly criticized because of things their boss has said and done. They are representatives of the elected officials, but I've seen them attacked as if they're the ones who voted for an action that does not meet the approval of a portion of the community. Or, even worse, an municipal improvement was installed (or not), and the community holds the staffer personally responsible. This makes some leave the job, and others can take it and continue on. In fact, some staffers move from office to office, especially with term limits in place.

Those that stay on and continue to work with and for the community have a certain passion for the job that is evident. They work long nights and go to every event in the field. Sometimes, it's a field deputy; sometimes it's the Chief of Staff. Regardless, there are some staffers that work as though their job is a privilege. They appear to be truly serving the people.

So this I put out to the masses in the City: What makes these staffers worth it? Who are the good ones and what do they do that makes it work?

(I have my observations, but I want to know what the non-City Nerds think.)

Pictured above: Council Staff from CD3 (Zine), many of whom have since left the office.


Anonymous said...

Who really does the work?? Well, in CD10, maybe 5% is done by "staff" - the rest is done by the community.

What makes a good staffer? Organization AND Communication skills...which NO ONE (not one person) on the staff of CD10 has!

Truly, shocking that such incompetence can exist for such an important job.

Can't wait for the next election to get rid of these overpaid clowns.

Back to the circus, they will all go!

Anonymous said...

I live in CD10 and totally agree with previous comment. But from my conversations with others outside of CD10, we are not teh only coucnil district facing this although it seems we have the worst staffers.

Why can't these people get it right? Where do they hire from?

What a bunch of idiots.

Anonymous said...

A good city staff will have GREAT field directors.

A good city staff has field directors who are always paying attention to the going on's in the community.

A good city staff has field directors who continuously keeps a finger on the pulse of a community by participating in the various community list servers and bulletin boards by reading and sometimes responding to the messages that residents post concerning city services or community issues.

A good city staff has field directors who will call back a resident within 24 hrs and follow up on questions within 3 days.

A good city staff has field directors who attend neighborhood council meetings at least every other month.

A good city staff has field directors with great professional relationships with city departments such as police, water and power, streets, libraries. When a resident has questions or concerns, they now who to contact, they now how to get answers and they followup.

A good city staff has field directors who treat the residents with dignity and respect.

When an issue comes up, A good city staff first asks "what does the neighborhood council say?". A good city staff values the advice of its districts neighborhood councils.

Anonymous said...

If you want to lose faith in the intelligence of your neighbors, get a field staff job and answer constituent calls all day. "Hi, I just moved into my new house and I realize there's an airport down the street. What can you do to help me?"

Anonymous said...

>> Recently, they voted to support the removal of the staffers for the LA School Boardmembers as part of the Mayor's school takeover plan - was that hypocritical?

This is an entirely different issue. The staff of LAUSD Boardmembers are actually employees of the district, not the boardmembers. Boardmembers should have their own hired staff.

Many people feel that LAUSD staffers priorities don't lie with the boardmember but with the district instead and that they are not all that forthcoming with the boardmember they work with. LAUSD boardmembers don't get the kind effective staff that City Councilmembers get.

Anonymous said...

zine needs a new staff picture. he's got hot girls working for him. that's what makes a good city staff

Anonymous said...

I also live in CD-10, and since Feb. have been a Neighborhood Council board member in that area. Our field deputy is the BEST. She comes to every meeting, answers every phone call, and follows up. We've even driven through the neighborhood together pointing out problems/concerns to each other. Yes, we still do most of the work by far, and only call her with the bigger problems. There's so much even she can do. But she's a gem and we don't know what we would do without her.

C... said...

that's a big city to look after.

Jason said...

CD-13 must have extraordinarily good staff. All of Eric Garcetti's people are amazingly responsive. Joe Bernardo works just about every second of the day as Silver Lake's field deputy... we were even on the phone with him during his vacation about a pressing issue. You will always hear back with an answer from Joe. Shane Goldsmith was similarly dedicated when she was our field deputy, and is still completely available now that she's district director. Molly Rysman was amazingly knowledgeable about legislative issues when she was around. The whole crew is very dedicated. No comlaints here.

Anonymous said...

I am also a member of an NC half in the 10th CD. I Think CD 10 Reps especially Liz Carlin is the best field deputy i have every worked with. Responsive, caring and committed. I think "the Community" has to realize not everything they want has to be done, and how much the council does vs the individuals.

Anonymous said...

As Neighborhood Council member for the last 3 years, and Communty leader for about 30 years I can't tell you what they do. I know what they promise. I have yet to see some large inprovement in our area.
I would like to see the NC given more power on the area need as assigned in each section. Hey! Where the Beef? Who got it?

Anonymous said...

As Neighborhood Council member for the last 3 years, and Communty leader for about 30 years I can't tell you what they do. I know what they promise. I have yet to see some large inprovement in our area.
I would like to see the NC given more power on the area need as assigned in each section. Hey! Where the Beef Who got it

Anonymous said...

The favorite words of our Field Deputy in CD8 are "I have nothing to report," as she rushes outside the door. It's been a year and so far there's been nothing to report.

Anonymous said...

Never heard of "Liz Carlin" in the CD10 area.

She must be assigned in the wealthier part of CD10 because those in the poorer area (ie;smaller homes) are getting screwed over. And the comments about Liz prove it.

I can't wait for the next election either.

Anonymous said...

Liz Carlin sounds wonderful.

Whereas Lisa Coleman of CD10 is a COMPLETE idiot. At first I thought she was just overwhelmed but then after "working with her", I realized that she is just mentally deficient.

I am not joking nor being sarcastic. She really is.

I guess it is true - that it's near impossible to get rid of a city worker because if ever there was one that should go it is her.


Anonymous said...

Maybe what could be gleaned from all this is how the council district could re-vamp their performance appraisal processfor their field deputies - because some people seems to be falling thru.

Anonymous said...

By the way, to the field staffer who wrote about airplane noise...

There is something you could have told your constituent. She could check her real estate papers for the disclosure of that noise. Why don't you know that? (I do and am not a real estate agent nor a field deputy.)


Anonymous said...

Dear CD10-ers:
Where Oh Where are the kudos for Sylvia Lacy,Senior Deputy,Field Office? Sylvia served under Naste Holden for years (the only bad thing about her)and now Herb. She is always informed, attentive and responsive to the community, knows who to call to get things done! She should be our Councilperson. I agree that Liz is wonderful, a tribute to Martin Ludlow, but pales in comparison to Sylvia. I am a NC Boardmember of 5 years and there would not be NCs in CD10 if it were not for Sylvia's organizing skills from the beginning of the Charter Amendment to form NCs. She has all the skills and talents: knows the community, has lived in the community for years, listens, acts, and responds. She has been instrumental in solving block club issues, overturning unresponsiveness from City Hall, smoothing over her former boss's insensitivity and bombast. She has all the qualities of a great council staff member!

Anonymous said...

As a CD10 resident and small business owner, I have never had a problem with the District Office. What most constituents DO NOT understand is that it takes TIME for things to get done. And so, maybe it would be a better use of your time to try and work with your field deputies instead of bashing on those that are hardworking and trying to get things done. Each field deputy is responsible for a large number of constituents per their area, and it is a difficult thing to take care of everything ALL AT ONCE. Plus, most of the time, they are the middle women and men stuck in the bureacratic process of trying to get a tree trimmed, or graffiti removed, or get rid of the couch that someone illegally dumped in front of your house. It is your responsibility to follow up with your complaint, and why can't we all just try to be pleasant? These field deputies are NOT our servants, they are hardworking individuals that deserve our respect. Stop spitting on their jobs well-done!
To the CD10 staffers, Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

As an NC boardmember, I work with 2 council districts and the difference is night and day. CD13 is great and responsive, CD1 you're lucky to get a response and no one trusts them at all.

Anonymous said...

We have a nickname for Mr. Wesson in CD10 - Wesson Oil - cause he is so slick at sliding away and hiding under a rock when we need him.

Anonymous said...

Your right - Sylvia Lacy is the most decent deputy in CD10 but she doesn't know how to delegate work.

And I mean, to the constituents. She can't so everything. She tries to hard to over compensate for all the other deputies who are on permanent coffee breaks.

And it really doesn't take much to be the best among the bunch of losers that surround her. The performance bar is set so low, we would have to dig down to find it.

Anonymous said...

The fact that CD13-Eric Garcetti is a good one doesn't surprise me.

Look at his background. His father, Gil Garcetti, is no fool and obviously brought his son up well enough to know that you don't work with the unqualified if you want to get somewhere politically.

Anonymous said...

It is too easy to point fingers and say that staffers should "learn your job"; are "mentally challenged"; "lazy" or any other adjective used here. Many times, people are drawn to public service because they want to do just that - SERVE THE PUBLIC. There is no handbook that is given when you are hired telling you all the rules, do's & don'ts ... as with most jobs - you learn as you go. It is not the preferred method - but it definitely is "sink or swim" in City Hall.

One important thing for all of you to keep in mind - elected official staffers are hired non-civil service. This means that our job is not guaranteed, we do not belong to a union, once our elected official's term runs out or loses an election - we are out of a job. Many are very fortunate to transfer into another elected official office, or to get hired by the incoming administration. So, you see, if there are council staffers around for a while - they are definitely doing something right!

Please, PLEASE be polite when you call your council offices - and do not expect things to change overnight. Everything has a process, and your concern is not the only one received that day, much less that hour.

One more tip - calls are logged, and if you are rude - you will be ignored.

Anonymous said...

in CD 14 - except for one person, no one else knows what is going on - they let you know about meetings and events 2 days before. Jose is a nice guy but really a "policy" person; he does not know what the hell his staff is doing and who hires "leftovers"? Alvin (Parra)- I want to be the next councilmember if you give the chance staffer, Tony (Ricasa)Mr. do it my way or I'll break your legs ---- please get some real professional staff - maybe close to what the previous councilmember in CD14 had.... oh wait, that's why he is mayor now

Anonymous said...

In reponse to the tip by "Staffer"

You will be ignored if rude?

How unprofessional you are. Really amazing to hear such a revelation by a "professional".

It is outrageous that you would run an office that way. Quite unacceptable behavior, really.

Frankly, it is all of your jobs, like any one else in a business, to service the "customer".

So, I don't understand where you get this attitude - in any other business you would be FIRED for ignoring customers that you deem rude or for not be able to service them (ie; poor performance).

If the "customer" is rude YOU need to find out how to eliminate that behavior by bettering yourself at YOUR JOB.

That is what separates a well run business (or Council District) from a poorly run one.

It's only because we were foolish enough to elect your councilman that we have to suffer with the likes of you.

Anonymous said...

It is telling (and sad) that so many comments are posted by UNSIGNED or ANONYMOUS members of neighborhood council boards. These board members are public officials and should be upfront and open with their remarks about other public officials. I don't fault the council members' staff employees as much as I do the wimpish NC board folks who refuse to identify themselves.


George Garrigues, secretary, Palms NC, and
Editor, Palms-Village Sun

Anonymous said...

Newly elected NC board member to CD10. Having participated in this community for 21/2 years now, I was very dissillusioned over Martin Ludlow as he was leaving his post early. Not thrilled with Nate Holden's past, obviously concerned over newly elected Herb Wesson, I find his support through his field deputies (namely Liz Carlin) a most rewarding exchange between stakeholders and the Councilman's supportive efforts. Liz has renewed my faith in being a part of the process in seeking change and seeing fruition at any level. I had no idea how much personal involvement and commitment any Field Deputy could (would) contribute until I met Liz. Change takes time, but small as changes may be it is a step in a positive direction to keep pushing for more.

Anonymous said...

so many of you are filled with hate. to improve communities, people must work together and treat each other with respect. i know that this can be trying sometimes, and a little idealist; but it is simply human nature to gravitate toward those who treat you kindly. i know that i am way less responsive to constituents when they open the conversation insulting myself, my colleagues or boss; and it happens all too often.

constituents open with "why the fuck hasn't anybody done anything, nobody cares, especially you idiots"

now that demonstrates a level of frustration with the process that must be addressed. we as citizens must all take part in improving our surroundings. we have to pick up the phone and call in that graffiti, report that abandoned car or volunteer for a neighborhood clean up. our neighborhoods are not going to magically change, we all have to pitch in.