Jeffrey Prang doesn’t care much about giving you pomp and circumstance surrounding his exit from the West Hollywood City Council. He isn’t into pointing to one piece of “signature legislation.”
“A number of people running for office — they all want that big thing that gets them in the newspaper,” he said. “That’s fine, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But what people want — they want their government to work.”
That includes police response, tree trimming, fixed roads, places to park and proper development, he added.
“I wanted to make sure that any time someone called city hall with a small issue, that somebody cared and took care of it,” he said. “I wanted to demonstrate that the city was doing the things it was required to do, the basics. That’s the whole reason that the government functions, is the basics. Everything else is gravy.”
After his election to become the Los Angeles County assessor, Prang left West Hollywood city government, where he had been a city councilman since 1997. It’s been a long political and administrative odyssey for Prang, who moved from chilly Michigan to sunny California when he was 25.
“I grew up in a blue collar suburb,” he said. “I was at that point in my life where California still had that ‘California dreamin’’ allure to it. I was just coming out and I wanted a place where I didn’t have to trudge through the snow in an area that was more accepting and inviting.”
Prang was already politically active before coming to Los Angeles. He had interned at the Michigan legislature and he ran for city council in his hometown before turning 25.
“When I first got [to the Los Angeles area], I stepped back a little,” he said.
That didn’t last long, however. Prang’s first political action was to join the West Hollywood Democratic Club. He then got involved with a campaign to preserve West Hollywood Park. In 1992, he was a special assistant to the county assessor. Other highlights include Prang working for Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter and working for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“Most of my career has been involved with government administration and public affairs,” he said.
By 1997, Prang was again full of political activity, and he won his West Hollywood City Council seat.
“There were two big political camps at odds, and when I was elected at that time, political battles were often personal and acrimonious,” he said. “I’m not a confrontational, aggressive person by nature. I also don’t think those are good skills in politics.”
Prang said it was his job to argue his position and to try to be persuasive — but to balance that with hearing the other side and taking people seriously.
“You’re not entitled to win. You’re entitled to make your best argument,” he said. “And sometimes you lose, but how you lose is important. So treating one another professionally and respectfully and treating the public professionally and respectfully, in many ways, became my biggest guiding value.”
West Hollywood has changed a great deal since he took office, Prang said, and hopefully people will point to measures he helped pass. One of the first major projects early on in his career was the redevelopment of Santa Monica Boulevard for $35 million. He also noted the construction of a new fire station, built up parks and a pavement program for residential roads.
“You will not find any parkway area or any of our residential streets or main streets where a tree can be housed where there’s not one,” he added. “You don’t see that in other cities.”
Prang said the city has added thousands of parking spots — even if there are still not enough of them — through the purchase of lots, structures and shared parking arrangements.
He said he was proud of the progressive stance the city has taken on animal welfare — outlawing the declawing of cats, banning fur sales, disallowing the commercial exploitation of exotic animals and regulating pet grooming businesses.
“Sometimes you need the stamp of the government in some part of the world to get the ball rolling,” he said.
Prang said he also wants to believe he helped keep the Russian immigrant population involved — moving their veterans parade to Santa Monica Boulevard, putting a monument in Plummer Park and appointing Russian community members to boards and commissions.
“We were doing nothing to celebrate this huge part of our population who were immigrants,” he said.
Although city council members once could serve in perpetuity if re-elected, Prang said that as early as in 2008 he began to think about phasing out of the council. Back then, he became assistant city manager for the city of Pico Rivera, and he wanted to establish himself more as a public administrator.
“I think it was probably one of the best professional education opportunities I had,” he said. “And West Hollywood also provides a really good platform. It’s a sophisticated city and really pushed the envelope and creativity in terms of municipal government.”
He next landed at the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office in 2012.
“I think I had a good reputation as an administrator and a good political reputation, and I thought I could be helpful,” Prang said. “As it turns out, I could. In a few weeks my duty became to help the assessor exit from this office.”
Corruption criminal charges have been filed against former-assessor John Noguez. Prang has never been linked to the charges.
“He had, in my view, crossed some lines and needed to go,” Prang said.
When no truly viable candidates emerged, Prang decided to throw his hat in the ring.
“I had been part of this reform team and played a key role in picking up the pieces amid this scandal of the previous assessor,” he said. “Frankly, I felt invested in the organization and the people here.”
Noguez has not been involved with the operations of the assessor’s office for the last two-and-a-half years.
“It was remarkable during the campaign how many people were unaware there was an office of the assessor, let alone that there was a scandal,” Prang said. “I think we’ve already gone a long way and we’re focused on the future.”
The assessor’s office has 1,400 employees and a $150 million budget. The office is responsible for the assessment of 2.6 million parcels at an estimated $1.3 trillion value.
Prang said one of his first big tasks is to upgrade, over the next several years, the technology infrastructure of the office.
“We should be an information- and technology-driven office, but in many ways we’re still paper-driven,” he said, and with that digitization, will come more time for assessments and fairer assessments.
It’s been an exciting, if not weird, beginning to a new chapter of life, Prang said. He has continued optimism for West Hollywood, and he said he hopes fresh faces will remember the stories and progressive past of the city’s history and former leaders.
“I spent more than half my adult life on the city council, and it’s sort of weird that I don’t have that authority anymore,” he said. “It’s still my city and still my home … I’m not going to stop caring and being involved, and hopefully I’ll do so in a way that is helpful to the people who are in charge of making the decisions.”
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