By Jennifer Solis
I just finished transcribing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s press conference, which DN columnist Rick Orlov was kind enough record for me. Thanks, Rick -- I owe you one.
“Hazing is reckless, reprehensible and juvenile. Any conduct that demeans, or makes people feel unwelcome in the workplace will not be tolerated – period. City employees need to remember that public service is an honor -- it is a privilege – and I know that the overwhelming number of employees feel that way.
“They work hard. They come to their jobs every day with a full respect for the opportunity that they’ve been given. Above all, they know that the taxpayers have an unqualified right to expect that their civil servants will conduct themselves at all times as complete professionals.
“Today, I’ve issued an executive directive declaring a zero tolerance policy against hazing in all city departments. It’s time to end this practice once and for all. It’s time to break the cycle, where necessary. It’s time to change the culture.
“We’re one city workforce, serving one community. Behavior that divides us has no place in the City of Los Angeles. This executive directive … will provide for the immediate investigation and discipline in any alleged case of hazing. It requires all city departments to report back on past hazing incidents and to recommend tougher guidelines for handling incidents in the future.
“I’m pleased to say that the Fire Commission will soon be considering a set of improved disciplinary guidelines following a series of audits by Controller Laura Chick. These tougher disciplinary guidelines will strengthen accountability standards in 144 different categories of misconduct. Employees engaging in hazing or horseplay will be subject to disciplinary action, including suspension and possible termination.”
The Mayor then went on to comment specifically on the Tennie Pierce case:
“Like every Angelino, I am deeply troubled by the allegations raised here. We cannot tolerate discrimination in any form. However, new information has come to light since the city attorney’s recommended settlement of the case. I believe that this information merits a re-examination of the matter.
Given the magnitude of the recommended settlement, taxpayers have the right to demand reconsideration with the full benefit of all the facts. . .
“We have a fundamental fiduciary responsibility to insure the wise use of tax dollars. Accordingly, I am returning this item with my veto with the request that the city get back to work on the case. My veto of this action will permit a reconsideration of settlement in light of all the evidence surrounding the claims in the lawsuit.
“I want to stress however, that the alleged behavior underlying this case must be eliminated in our city workforce. As this case illustrates, hazing creates a serious risk of legal liability for the city, and it undermines the professionalism that we expect in the workplace. That’s why we are going to take a hard line and adopt a zero tolerance policy with respect to hazing”
Jennifer’s random thoughts while listening to the Mayor’s speech:
Does anyone have any confidence in City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s ability to investigate these cases and analyze ALL the facts? How many of these cases are handled by private law firms which have no stake in the outcome, in terms of taxpayer liability?
For example, were there in-depth interviews with enough of the witnesses at the fire house that night who would have established the context of this and other pranks? Or did the city attorney investigators simply conduct enough questions to go through the motions, and gather enough words on sheets of paper to earn their fees?
One good result of this controversy could come if the city council, or some taxpayer watchdog group, takes a close look into how the investigation of these cases is handled, and what can be done to improve the way the city treasury can be protected from such claims. Certainly, the outrageous amounts given out in these lawsuits must be capped, commensurate to actual damage, such as exists in medical malpractice claims in California. Hurt feelings should be worth no more than a dollar.
Why should the city taxpayers be liable for the misbehavior of city employees, who act outside of approved policy and common sense? It’s the deep pockets of the municipality which motivates most of these lawsuits in the first place.
When journalists asked the city attorney last week what he considered to be the rationale for the Pierce settlement, Delgadillo refused to comment because of what he termed “attorney-client privilege.” Who are his clients in this matter? Certainly not city council members –they didn’t elect the city attorney – WE DID!!!
We are also the people who actually are being sued – the citizens of Los Angeles. It was partially his refusal to come clean, and divulge the reasons for his recommendation that fanned the flames of protest by his constituents.
The solution to enforcing a prohibition on hazing will be to fine, suspend or fire employees who are found participating in, or condoning, this kind of workplace behavior.
The fireman who brought the claim was a long-time perpetrator of these kinds of pranks. He hazed and humiliated others, and finally became a victim of a similar joke. He doesn’t deserve a penny of taxpayer money.
Labels: rocky delgadillo