Monday, November 20, 2006

Mayor Takes Heroic Stand On Firefighter Hazing Lawsuit!

The Mayor really stepped up to the plate on this one; my comments at the end of his superb speech:

Kevin Roderick

Mayor Villaraigosa used his veto power for the first time and killed the $2.7 million payout to firefighter Tennie Pierce that was negotiated by City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and approved 11-1 by the City Council. Pierce had sought compensation for being forced to eat dog food during a hazing prank at his fire station. New evidence raises questions about the deal, the mayor said, adding that he remains disturbed by the hazing rituals at city fire stations. At his press conference Villaraigosa issued an anti-hazing directive.

The mayor's statement after the jump:

Remarks of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa regarding LAFD hazing settlement

“Ladies and gentlemen:

Thank you all for coming today.

We’re here this afternoon to declare unequivocally:

The practice of hazing has NO PLACE in the City of Los Angeles!

We’ve all read the reports*many of us have seen the images*depicting alleged activities in the Los Angeles Fire Department that have placed the City in a position of potential legal liability.

Like most Angelenos, I find these images deeply disturbing and totally unacceptable.

Hazing is reckless, reprehensible, and juvenile.

Any conduct that demeans or that otherwise makes people feel unwelcome in the workplace will not be tolerated. Period.

As City employees, we need to remember that public service is an honor and a privilege.

I know that an overwhelming number of our employees feel that way.

They work hard.

They come to their jobs every day with a full respect for the opportunity they are being given.

Above all, they know that the taxpayers have an unqualified right to expect that our city’s civil servants will conduct themselves at all times as complete professionals.

Today, I have issued an Executive Directive declaring a ZERO TOLERANCE policy against hazing in all City’s departments.

It’s time to end the practice once and for all.

It’s time to break the cycle.

Where necessary, it is time to change the culture.

We are one City workforce, serving one community, and behavior that divides us has no place in the City of Los Angeles.

This Executive Directive will require notification of our zero tolerance policy of every City employee in every Department.

It provides for the immediate investigation and discipline in any alleged case of hazing.

It requires all City departments to report back on past hazing incidents and to recommend tougher guidelines for handling incidents in the future.

I am pleased to say that the Fire Commission will soon be considering a set of improved disciplinary guidelines following on a series of audits by Controller Laura Chick.

These tougher disciplinary guidelines will strengthen accountability standards in 144 different categories of misconduct.

Employees engaging in hazing or horseplay will be subject disciplinary action, including suspension and possible termination.

I want to commend the commission and the stakeholders who participated in fashioning these reforms through many months of hard work and many hours of tough deliberations. I look forward to the Commission approving these guidelines very soon.

And I want to say: We will be enacting similar standards in every City department.

Now, I want to address specifically the City Attorney’s recommended settlement in the case of Tennie Pierce versus the City of Los Angeles.

Like every Angeleno, I am deeply troubled by the allegations raised here.

We cannot tolerate discrimination in any form.

However, new information has come to light since the City Attorney recommended settlement of the case.

I believe that this information merits a reexamination of the matter.

Given the magnitude of the recommended settlement, taxpayers have a right to demand a reconsideration with the full benefit of all the facts.

Today, I announced $15 million in long-needed investments in South Los Angeles today, so when I say every dollar counts, I mean it.

We have a fundamental fiduciary responsibility to ensure the wise use of tax dollars.

Accordingly, I am returning the item with my veto and with a request that the City get back to work on the case.

My veto of this action will permit a reconsideration of settlement in light of all of the evidence surrounding the claims in the lawsuit

I want to stress, however, that the alleged behavior underlying this case must be eliminated in our City workforce.

As this case illustrates, hazing creates a serious risk of legal liability for the City, and it undermines professionalism we expect in the workplace.

That’s why we’re going to take a hard line*AND ADOPT A ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY*with respect to hazing in the City of Los Angeles.”

A great statement and a courageous action.

In close, I know a little about hazing. Back when I was somewhat abruptly introduced to the cowboy life at age 17, I was given a horse that would not remain broke - no matter how times times I thought he had been gentled - and it took me two... painful... months to figure out why.

And after I started getting just getting a touch cocky about my very fledging fighting skills, I got into a bar fight with this 'random stranger' who just happened to be there. But after ten very long minutes of brawling that left both of us barely able to even crawl off the floor, it turned out he just happened to be a ranked (if not particularly all that highly) boxer.

But each of those events - and the many like them - were designed to teach me something and to make me just a little bit tougher - and, possibly, just a little bit smarter, though the smarter part always turned out to be the harder part.

But it was never done to demean or humiliate me like what I saw that firefigher do to his colleagues.

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