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Improving Civil Service Accountability

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All photos by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

The Board of Supervisors voted to review the civil service hearing process to ensure Los Angeles County employees are held to the highest standards of trustworthiness, especially if they are responsible for public safety or serve vulnerable populations.

BCA_8892 (1)Acting on a motion by Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the Board called for analyzing whether civil service rules should be amended to allow the discharge, reassignment, or other discipline of employees who have made false statements, misrepresentations and omissions of material facts in internal investigations. It will also assess whether to keep track of different classifications of employees who should be held to a higher standard of honesty in the workplace.

“We are committed as a Board to maintaining a diverse and skilled workforce dedicated to serving our residents with integrity, courtesy and excellence,” Board Chair Ridley-Thomas said during the Board meeting. “If there is a question of whether the disciplinary systems here in our County are effective enough, we have an obligation to address any gaps in a manner that is fair and transparent while, at the same time, honoring and respecting employee rights.”

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Urban Peace Institute executive director Fernando Rejon testifies with Los Angeles County Commission on Children and Families member Sydney Kamlager in support of the motion.

“County residents should be able to put their faith in the trustworthiness and honesty of all County employees, most especially those who are responsible for public safety and where lives are at stake,” Supervisor Kuehl said. “The motion will provide the Board of Supervisors with the tools we need to hold our employees accountable if they violate that trust and lie in internal investigations.”

Several people who attended the Board meeting to testify in support of the motion expressed concern over recent events involving County employees. Last month, former Sheriff Lee Baca was convicted of making false statements, obstruction of justice and conspiracy in connection with a federal investigation into excessive use of force at County jails. This coincided with the filing of assault charges against Probation officers in connection with the videotaped beating of a 17-year-old at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar. Days later, a judge ordered four social workers to stand trial in connection with the torture and murder of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez in Palmdale.

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Melanie Ochoa, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, testifying in support of the motion.

Daniel Heimpel, publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change, an online publication with a focus on child welfare and juvenile justice, noted existing civil service rules led to the reinstatement of one of the social workers fired in connection with the Gabriel Fernandez case. He told the Board, “What you’re doing today, in terms of trying to create a transparent and accountable system, not only helps (social) workers do their job better but it will also help protect the children.”

The County’s Inspector General for the Sheriff’s Department, Max Huntsman, blamed a “dysfunctional discipline system” for hampering the department’s ability to fire a certain deputy who has admitted to falsifying hundreds of police reports. “Civil service reform is a critical part of repairing that process,” he told the Board.

Merrick Bobb, the Board’s former Special Counsel monitoring the Sheriff’s Department, said the motion is “necessary for expanding accountability and for increasing transparency… (which are) critically important to maintain the integrity of the system.”

Alberto Retana, president of the nonprofit Community Coalition, said, “Failure to hold public servants accountable for misconduct threatens public trust and confidence in local government.”

A year ago, Board Chair Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Kuehl filed a separate motion to evaluate the selection, qualifications, training and responsibilities of Civil Service Commission members, hearing officers and department advocates. In response to that motion, the Board’s Executive Office submitted a report listing several recommendations, including providing more training and offering an increase in compensation to attract a larger pool of candidates.

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Merrick Bobb, the Board of Supervisors’ former Special Counsel monitoring the Sheriff’s Department, testifying in support of the motion.

LA Based ‘Napalm Girl’ Photographer Retires After 51 Years

Legendary Los Angeles-based photographer Nick Ut, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1972 photo that became an iconic image of the Vietnam War, is retiring after a 51 year career with the Associated Press.
Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

“Nick Ut, through his hauntingly beautiful photography, has chronicled history and captivated the world’s attention, leaving a legacy for future generations,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor and Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who recognized Ut proclaiming April 4, 2017 as Nick Ut Day in the County of Los Angeles.

Born in Vietnam in 1951, Ut was 15 when his brother and war photographer, Huynh Thanh My, was killed at war in 1965. Promising to himself that he would continue his brother’s mission of taking a photo that would end the war, Ut showed up at the AP’s Saigon bureau, seeking a job.

He was only 21 when he took the famed photo of a naked 9-year-old girl fleeing her village after a napalm attack on June 8, 1972. At 12:30 p.m. that day, four napalm bombs were dropped on Trang Bang. Nick watched in horror as people emerged from the fireball and smoke. He photographed a grandmother carrying a baby who died in her arms. He then photographed nine-year-old Kim Phuc whose clothes had been burned off her and whose skin was beginning to melt off of her body in strips. Badly in need of immediate medical attention, Kim had third-degree burns on more than 30 percent of her body. Nick set his camera aside, covered her with a raincoat and drove Kim and other injured children to a hospital in nearby Cu Chi. After the hospital refused to admit her, Ut used his media credentials to get her treated by doctors who ultimately saved her life.

“I cried when I saw her running,” Ut once told an AP reporter. “If I don’t help her — if something happened and she died — I think I’d kill myself after that.” Ut is still close with the now 53-year-old Kim Phúc who is a wife and mother of two.

South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places, June 8, 1972. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. The children from left to right are: Phan Thanh Tam, younger brother of Kim Phuc, who lost an eye, Phan Thanh Phouc, youngest brother of Kim Phuc, Kim Phuc, and Kim's cousins Ho Van Bon, and Ho Thi Ting. Behind them are soldiers of the Vietnam Army 25th Division. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places, June 8, 1972. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. The children from left to right are: Phan Thanh Tam, younger brother of Kim Phuc, who lost an eye, Phan Thanh Phouc, youngest brother of Kim Phuc, Kim Phuc, and Kim’s cousins Ho Van Bon, and Ho Thi Ting. Behind them are soldiers of the Vietnam Army 25th Division. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Nick Ut was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for his photograph of Kim, which is credited with swaying public opinion against the war in Vietnam.

Los Angeles police form a line to prevent a crowd from going into a building, April 30, 1992, in a day of fires and looting. It was a long day as officers moved from trouble spot to trouble spot. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Los Angeles police form a line to prevent a crowd from going into a building, April 30, 1992, in a day of fires and looting. It was a long day as officers moved from trouble spot to trouble spot. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Ut would go on to take tens of thousands of photos over the next 44 years. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, Ut came to California as a refugee. AP sent him to Tokyo, and then to Los Angeles in 1977. He became a fixture in Los Angeles, where his images from the 1992 civil unrest, the O.J. Simpson trial, and the recent brush fires became an international lens to tell the story of current events in Los Angeles County.

During his retirement, he plans to spend time with his family, especially his grandchildren, teaching photography, and, yes, taking more pictures. “I’ll take pictures until I die,” says Ut. “My camera is like my doctor, my medicine.”

Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

 

Revolutionizing the Voting System

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Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

Determined to revolutionize its voting system, Los Angeles County unveiled a high-tech and user-friendly prototype to replace the aging InkaVote Plus, as well as a host of other proposed innovations and reforms to better serve the nation’s largest electorate.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas said this reimagining of the voting system, tentatively slated for a full rollout in 2020, could have a profound effect on the democratic process. He said, “Voting is a cornerstone of our democracy, and these improvements will make elections more accessible, secure, transparent and trustworthy.”

DFB_8722 (1)Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan added that efforts to modernize and streamline the voting system go beyond upgrading technology. “We envision a systemic and holistic improvement in the way we provide election services, providing more accessible and flexible voting options,” he said. “The new system will allow us to meet voters where they are, and give them the ability to have choices and customize their experience in a manner that instills trust, confidence and possibly even excitement in the experience of casting a vote.”

The County’s five million registered voters currently cast ballots using the InkaVote Plus, which relies on components developed in 1968. To ensure greater citizen participation in designing the next generation of voting machines, the County kicked off the Voting Systems Assessment Project in 2009. Consultations with elections, security and technology experts, as well as different kinds of voters, concluded that none of the existing off-the-shelf voting machines could satisfy the County’s complex needs. IDEO, an award-winning global design firm credited with helping design Apple’s first computer mouse, among other innovations, was then brought in to develop a prototype.

DFB_8697 (1)The vision for the new voting system includes a Ballot Marking Device that lets voters click on a touch screen, press buttons on a tactile handheld device, or make voice commands to cast ballots. It would also be able to “read” Interactive Sample Ballots on smartphones.

Another novel idea is to create a 10-day early voting period and allow voters to go to any conveniently located Vote Center to cast their ballot, instead of limiting them to a specific polling place on Election Day. Also being rolled out are an Electronic Pollbook that would replace paper rosters for checking in voters, and Vote-by-Mail ballots that are easier to understand.

The County purposely made the engineering specifications, intellectual property and functional prototypes to be nonproprietary and remain in the public domain, so that other jurisdictions can take advantage of the data for upgrading their own voting systems.

A Second Chance at a Better Life

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All photos by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

Los Angeles County is taking steps to help people clear their criminal records under Prop. 47. The Public Defender’s Office and Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas recently joined forces to host a Jobs, Legal Services and Resource Fair in the Vermont Manchester area, offering assistance with everything from job-hunting to housing to reducing traffic fines. One of the day’s key offerings: legal help for those seeking a second chance under Prop. 47.

Image-10Hundreds of people flocked to the Rita Walters Learning Complex to meet with attorneys, County service providers, employers and community-based organizations. Aside from meeting several potential employers, including FedEx, Los Angeles County, and the Los Angeles Community College District, they were also able to apply for health insurance, housing, Cal Fresh/Medi-Cal and other  services. Several in the crowd also obtained free legal services to clear their record and to benefit from the Traffic Amnesty Program. 

FairAmong the many County departments present at the event were Public Social Services, and Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services. Southwest College and the nonprofits A New Way of Life and Drug Policy Alliance were among the partners. Several more fairs are planned throughout the County.

Prop. 47, approved by 60 percent of California voters in 2014, downgrades certain drug possession felonies to misdemeanors, and requires misdemeanor sentencing for petty theft, receiving stolen property and forging or writing bad checks when the amount involved is $950 or less. No one is automatically released from state prison because of Prop 47. Instead, it allows those already serving a felony conviction to petition the court for resentencing. Those who have already completed their sentences can ask the trial court to downgrade their conviction.

Planning the Next Step with Measure H

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All photos by Henry Salazar/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas brought together key stakeholders in the fight against homelessness to collaborate on a spending plan for Measure H, after a supermajority approved the ballot measure creating an unprecedented annual funding stream for programs to end and prevent homelessness in Los Angeles County.

“It is imperative that we draw on the expertise and experience of those on the frontlines in the fight against homelessness, as well as those who have lived it, to get the best bang for our buck with Measure H,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

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Acting on a Feb. 7 motion by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, County CEO Sachi Hamai and Homeless Initiative director Phil Ansell convened a 50-member planning group that includes County government staff and technical experts, representatives of cities within the County, nonprofit service providers, leaders of the faith, business and philanthropic communities, and formerly homeless individuals.

To ensure accountability, the County Auditor Controller will have an independent auditor regularly report on Measure H spending, and a Citizen’s Oversight Advisory Board will publish a complete accounting of all allocations and submit periodic evaluations. The County will continue to release quarterly progress reports in connection with the Homeless Initiative strategies. Finally, the nonprofits that implement the strategies will be held to specific outcomes and standards, tracked and monitored by the Los Angeles Housing Services Authority, the County CEO and County Department of Health Services, and other relevant County departments.

“The voters of Los Angeles County have clearly demonstrated their commitment to combating homelessness by approving Measure H,” County CEO Hamai said. “Today, we demonstrated our commitment to them by beginning a process that will ensure transparency and accountability in making sure every dollar is spent effectively and efficiently.”

“Los Angeles County voters have entrusted us with $355 million annually to fund supportive services for our homeless neighbors,” added Elise Buik, President & CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, which hosted the first planning group meeting at its headquarters. “Now, it’s our responsibility as a community to mobilize these resources effectively and efficiently – and that can only be done with a diverse coalition of community stakeholders: faith leaders, homeless service providers, community organizations and civic leaders.”

The planning group’s meetings on April 6, April 20 and May 10 are open to the public. Measure H is a 1/4-cent County sales tax that would generate approximately $355 million annually. This dedicated funding is expected to help 45,000 families and individuals escape homelessness within five years and prevent homelessness for 30,000 others.

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