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Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin outlined some his top priorities during a meeting on Tuesday sponsored by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Political Action Committee, and said there are plenty of challenges and opportunities ahead.
Galperin, an attorney and former president of the Los Angeles Quality and Productivity Commission, was elected in 2013 and started as city controller last July. Of the 18 new members of city government elected in 2013, he was the only one who hadn’t formerly held an official governmental position or worked for a member of city government.
While the office is known for auditing city departments and creating transparency on how public money is spent, it is only a small part of the controller’s responsibilities, he said. The City Controller’s Office oversees payroll for approximately 42,000 city employees every two weeks, issues billions of dollars in payments for all contracted city services, compiles financial reports for the city and examines ways the city can operate more efficiently.
“There are some great opportunities to bring in some outside ideas to really bring the expertise of people living in Los Angeles into city hall, and hopefully bring it into the 21st Century. City government sometimes gets a bad rap, but there are some great people working in city government,” Galperin said. “The lens through which I see everything … is looking at every single thing we do both in controller’s office and overall, in the city of L.A., and looking at what is our return on our investment. Seeing if it is making any sense at all, and benchmarking it against other jurisdictions, other cities, other counties, the private sector. Because some basic things I want to know about what it’s costing to do ‘X’, and what we are getting in return, and how does that compare to others doing the same thing, [don’t] seem to be simple questions. They don’t always elicit a response, or elicit a response that makes any sense.”
The city controller said he is particularly interested in implementing new technologies, and has already updated his office’s website so city staff and members of the public can keep better track of city funds and other work in which the office is involved.
Galperin also said he wants to examine the city’s discretionary funds, or “special” funds. He added that there are approximately 970 discretionary funds the city has created to do everything from road and infrastructure repair to accounts for each city council district to complete special projects in each area.
“We do a terrible job of tracking this money,” Galperin said. “We are talking about millions of dollars. We have an opportunity to delve into this, so we can better manage our finances. The city’s treasury at any given moment has about $8 billion in it, so there are some real opportunities there.”
With city operations, Galperin said there are some opportunities to make things more efficient. He is looking into ways to better keep track of how long employees take to complete projects, and whether time could be better spent in other ways.
“It adds up to millions of dollars in employee time, and millions of dollars that could be better spent in other ways,” Galperin said.
The controller briefly addressed the issue surrounding the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP), and stated that he is committed to completing an audit of two nonprofits that worked with the DWP. Approximately $40 million in public money has not been accounted for, and Galperin said he would continue to work with the city attorney to ensure records are provided to the city, and there is transparency in how the money was spent.
“We are doing a lot more on the DWP issue … and should be serving some subpoenas soon to see how this money is being spent,” he added. “We are going to do everything it takes to make sure it is accounted for.”
Galperin also said he would like to see more efficiency in the way the city repairs the infrastructure, and is optimistic about new technologies that could have significant benefits. One idea he said he is examining is an automated truck that can repair potholes and street damage, instead of using a city crew. Galperin said the technology exists to link a pothole with a GPS monitoring system and computer database that can predict when it may need repairs again.
He said that he plans to soon look at ways to more efficiently collect the city’s parking occupancy tax. He added that the city is likely losing out on $25 million each year in parking taxes, and hopes to use technology to improve the system for collecting the tax.
“There are a lot of things we can do,” Galperin said. “It would definitely increase our collections in the city if we create an electronic tool to make things more efficient.”
The controller’s discussion was one of the first in a series of forums the Hollywood Chamber’s Political Action Committee plans to hold in the future. PAC president Laurie Golden said with the 2014 elections coming up, the organization plans to host forums with many of the candidates at dates to be announced. For information, visit www.www.hollywoodchamber.net.
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