It's no secret that there's been considerable bad blood between L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan and City Administrative Officer Bill Fujioka. But the simmering tensions over the scope of Fujioka's powers may be entering a new phase. Word around City Hall last week was that Riordan is lining up City Council votes to fire Fujioka, possibly as early as this week.
The issue at the center of the dispute: whether Fujioka's office should be sending studies and financial reports exclusively to the Mayor or to both the Mayor and the council. This seemingly arcane issue is actually quite important; it's really about who controls the flow of information at City Hall.
"There's nothing more vital in a public setting than the control of information," said a Fujioka supporter.
Technically, the CAO, who conducts revenue projections and reviews city expenditures, is supposed to send reports to both the mayor and the council. But during the charter debate, Riordan tried to have those functions transferred to the new Department of Finance, which reports exclusively to the mayor.
Even though that effort failed, Riordan still has been trying to limit the scope of Fujioka's authority, Fujioka supporters claim. Riordan's goal, they say, is to avoid having Fujioka submit budget reports simultaneously to the council. The Mayor would rather receive those reports first and then pass them on to the council. Fujioka, who was initially appointed by Riordan, has refused to do this, claiming in previous press reports that it would reduce the independence of his office.
Reached by phone last week, Fujioka said he had no comment on the dispute, saying, "I'm just trying to do my job."
Riordan's office also refused official comment on the matter, saying that anything involving a city department manager is a "personnel matter," and is thus confidential.
Privately, Riordan supporters say the Mayor simply perceives Fujioka as an ineffective manager who should be fired, just like any other department manager he deems ineffective.
The reason for the apparent sudden ratcheting up of the dispute is the departure of L.A. City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, a Fujioka supporter who heads for Sacramento this week as a new state Assemblywoman.
Under the new charter, it takes 10 council votes to override a firing by the mayor. Or, to put it another way, until this week, Riordan needed backing from at least six of the 15 council members to block an override. But with Goldberg's post now vacant until July, Riordan only needs five council votes to block an override attempt. And the Fujioka camp claims Riordan has three fairly certain votes, meaning he only has to secure two more votes.
If Riordan thinks he can line up the votes, Fujioka supporters believe Riordan will move within days to fire the CAO.
Local labor unions are once again flexing their muscles, scoring three low profile but significant victories in local government circles over the last two weeks.
At the L.A. Unified School District last week, the building trades unions won a one-year extension of a project labor agreement, or PLA, for millions of dollars worth of work that is being funded with Proposition BB money. (Prop. BB is a $2.4 billion bond measure passed by L.A. voters back in 1997 to upgrade the district's school facilities.) Under a PLA, all contracts must be steered to union contractors or contractors who agree to abide by union pay and benefit scales.
The other two victories came courtesy of L.A. City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, labor's strongest ally in local government. She introduced a flurry of last-minute measures before leaving the Council this week for her state Assembly post.
One of those ordinances prohibits the city from awarding contracts to any company found to be in violation of worker health and safety laws or wage and hour laws. It also prohibits contracts with companies found to be violating labor laws governing unions organizing workplaces. The measure passed unanimously on Nov. 21.
Labor scored a partial victory on the other ordinance, which was co-sponsored by Councilwoman Ruth Galanter. Originally, the ordinance would have required that any company performing work on, or receiving assistance to locate in, any of the 21 sites in Mayor Riordan's Genesis L.A. inner-city investment program pay its workers the city's living wage. Currently, the living wage is $8.97 an hour without health benefits or $7.72 an hour with health benefits. So far, some $40 million in public funds have been earmarked for projects at six Genesis L.A. sites.
But the ordinance was amended on the council floor last week, before being approved. Developers and their subcontractors will be required to pay the living wage on Genesis L.A. projects. But instead of requiring the tenants of these projects to pay the living wage, the ordinance now only requires the Mayor's Office to submit information to the council on the pay scales and types of jobs that the projects would create.
Local Bush Appointee?
As Texas Gov. George W. Bush is assembling his transition team, one name that has surfaced as a potential Bush administration appointee is Brad Freeman, a partner in the investment firm Freeman Spogli & Co.
Freeman was chairman of Bush's California finance committee and stuck by the Republican presidential candidate during the stiff challenge mounted by Ariz. Sen. John McCain in the Republican primary. Back in January and early February, several other prominent Republicans either jumped ship (including Secretary Of State Bill Jones) or publicly wavered in their support of Bush.
Freeman's name was brought up by Republican political commentator Hugh Hewitt on a local public affairs show right after the election. Freeman himself was traveling on the East Coast last week and could not be reached for comment.
Of course, one of Freeman's partners is Bill Wardlaw, one of the principal Democratic Party bigwigs in town, who has met frequently with President Clinton and was instrumental in bringing the Democratic National Convention to Los Angeles.
Revamped Permit Office
Continuing its quest to make L.A. city government more user-friendly, the Department of Building & Safety this week is scheduled to open its revamped West L.A. permitting office.
The office, located on Sawtelle Boulevard between Santa Monica and Olympic boulevards, has much more extensive counter space and a central check-in area to guide builders through what can sometimes be a maze of permit requirements.
The main goal is to speed customers through the permitting process, said department spokesman Bob Steinbock.
Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached via e-mail at hfine@Labusinessjounal.com, or by phone at (323) 549-5225 ext. 227.
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