Twenty Questions for West Hollywood

twentyqestions
March 31, 2014

Op-ed by Carleton Cronin, West Hollywood, California

There are some things which bear repeating – and repeating.

One such is: “Don’t ask questions.”  In any institution, company or association, there are those who make the rules, determine the scope of things and to whom one, as a underling, must answer.

Carleton Cronin writes about the perils and pleasures of living in the urban wilderness.

Carleton Cronin writes about the perils and pleasures of living in the urban wilderness.

Thus, the term “institutionalized” with reference to the close concern with following the rules, not challenging the authorities and not questioning orders.

Almost everybody in our culture manages to stay within the lines, shouldering only one’s own responsibilities, not attempting  make judgments (except in private) and being a model prisoner – uh, employee.

Sorry. Perhaps I was self-employed for too long to appreciate working with others.

Sometime last year, I wanted to do a short article on one of the city departments and asked a particular person in that department how long she had worked for the city.

She told me that I would have to call the personnel office for that information.

Really?

Yes.

So I called and left a message and my email address.

You can't fight something you can't get a hold of, so City Hall does its best, it seems, to  be slippery.

You can’t fight something you can’t get a hold of, so City Hall does its best, it seems, to be slippery.

Two days later I received an answer by email.

It told me that such information was not allowed to be disseminated to the public.

It was a personnel matter.

I was beginning to recall a certain Kafka story, “Before The Law” in which a man is confronted by conflicting rules which prevent him from ever obtaining his desired destination.

Life does imitate art.

All this chaff is produced in my mind as it grinds on with a simple intent: To ask why our City Manager had a private job review, and with whom.

Did the personnel department, that place of mystery, interrogate him with a long list of severe questions?   Or was it some new approach to such things where, for instance, one’s own subordinates grill the boss?  Or, heaven forbid, was it the Council itself?  If that is the case, I cannot imagine a less rigorous situation for Mr. Arevalo.

Paul Arevalo is one of the highest paid City Managers in Los Angeles County, which has 88 cities.

Paul Arevalo is one of the highest paid City Managers in Los Angeles County, which has 88 cities.

But I would caution him that the time of the interview is suspicious: 4 P.M.?  too close to the end of  the work day, and too easy to hear: “There’s the door. We’ll send your things to you.”  He should see if the time could be changed to early morning when people are fresher.

– Ooops.

Forgot that our Council all have day jobs and probably cannot get away until later in the day. Actually, the next time we do this, I’d like to see a panel of residents, even a couple of local business people, do the job.

After all, the City Manager works for the city in which we are citizens, and his actions affect us more than his employees.

Or do I have it backwards?  I know that we elect people to represent our interests and they should be able to continue to do so in a job review of the City Manager – but, I think they are too close to the person being interviewed.

Here’s why: There are many barriers to prevent residents from knowing what is going on at City Hall. There are times when we feel that we are on the outside, pressing our nose against the one-way glass.

I know there are commissions and boards and advisory groups, but sooner or later they become club members also. Very difficult to be removed from the action even with the best of intentions.  So, I think there are residents who would like to ask the questions. To enumerate my questions here is not the point of this piece.

Residents of many Southern California cities have become wary about their un-elected officials and their activities in setting salaries and benefits and dealings with various employee unions – all done as far as I can tell, without input from their communities.

The city stands for more than gay rights; among public administrators WeHo has an excellent reputation for fiscal prudence.

The city stands for more than gay rights; among public administrators WeHo has an excellent reputation for fiscal prudence.

Personally, I look upon the City Manager as a manager of a business enterprise, which all cities are now. Prop 13 took the legs out of the cities’ ability to raise taxes on residential and, unfortunately, business property. If West Hollywood had to live on that tax alone we would have a far poorer city than now exists.

Thus, making money for municipal operations requires a person with a good head for business. If our little town is  equivalent to a $25 million business, then the CEO/City Manager should certainly be well paid for his work.

But, as we have learned to our dismay there are limits and places such as the city of Bell have, through the criminality of its officials, defined those limits – and the process of setting remuneration and benefits must be more open than ever.

That is why I’d like to see a panel of residents overseeing that process.

Also, there comes a time when those long in office must realize that, however instrumental they have been in the realm of city-building, that there are others who might see farther into the future than they and that the time has come to step aside.

This work of art in a mall just off Sunset Boulevard represents another aspect of West Hollywood - the encouraging of public art.

This work of art in a mall just off Sunset Boulevard represents another aspect of West Hollywood – the encouraging of public art.

The old order changeth”, don’t you know.

Not only our City Manager but our Council must hear the clock ticking.

There is a singular conversation in the city and its subject is the future.

All eyes are on the calendar and the clock as the future unfolds.

*(Twenty Questions was popular game in my youth – look it up.)