GPW: Self-Tempered Anarchy since 2009

Your GPW Editor-on-Occasion is Petra Fried in the City.
Send us your stories, ideas, and information. Insiders welcome - confidentiality guaranteed.

stories along The Way

Monday, August 19, 2013

First General Manager the Mayor should retain - Jon Kirk Mukri

This past April, author Bob Gelfand stirred a few people up with his somewhat confusing rant on CityWatch LAWho Should the New Mayor Fire First?  In it, he states that the first person the new mayor should fire is Recreation and Parks General Manager Jon Kirk Mukri.
I couldn't disagree more with the author.

The first General Manager the Mayor should absolutely retain is Jon Kirk Mukri.

General Manager Mukri works very well with an extremely passionate and diverse parks community. He's made the Mayor and every City councilmember look really really good over the years with key projects in their districts, and other cities look to his department as a national leader. This in spite of the crippling budget cuts and chargebacks the City Council has levied unfairly on the department. Yes, some of the parks are a mess, but the department hasn't been allowed to keep enough employees or hire to keep up with demand.

The biggest reason to retain Mukri?  The man truly cares about the kids in this city.

I know a little bit about how the Dept of Recreation and Parks works, having been a parks advocate and an operations volunteer with the department for the past decade. I know I am not the only one who found the Gelfand's content a bit nutty. Most people I spoke with read it and went... "what?? huh?"

In actuality, the author's main complaint about Mukri specifically seemed to be that Mukri didn't know who the author was. That isn't exactly a heinous crime.

"Condom Tree" at Harbor Regional Park
The vast majority of the complaint sketched out in Gelfand's article lies squarely on the performance of Assistant GM over Operations, Kevin Regan. That particular administrator is someone with whom much of the community has difficulty. He isn't doing a good job -- witness Gelfand's description of the perpetual operations mess in Harbor Regional Park  -- and the employees he oversees are allegedly abused by this person unless they've been promoted to be one of his "spies". The only thing Regan is supposedly good at is sucking up to politicians.

Keeping Regan in that position in a department that is as public service-oriented as Recreation and Parks is the only thing I can really ding Mukri on.

Regardless of Mukri's performance to date, the rumor mill has been in full swing since it began to look like Garcetti could win the election. "Those in the know" have been saying that Mayor Garcetti will be exacting revenge on Recreation and Parks' general manager  because Mukri's significant other, Claire Bartels, was Wendy Gruel's chief of staff for ages.

I believe that Mayor Garcetti is above such nonsense. Garcetti was raised in a political family where politics is what you do outside the home and couples may have different political ideals when they are at work. Mukri did not campaign for Garcetti's opponent, so why would there be retaliation on an excellent manager? If Garcetti is indeed calling the shots, I can't see this kind of nonsense controlling his decision.

So how do the employees feel?  When then-mayoral candidate Garcetti announced that if elected he would make all of the City's general managers reapply for their jobs, I started taking an informal poll of Recreation and Parks employees I know who have been in the department for a long time. The question:
"Of all the General Managers the Dept (of Recreation and Parks) has had in the last two decades, which one could have managed to keep the department intact given the $155 million taken from the Dept budget over last 5 years?"
The answer could have been one of these four:  
  • Jackie Tatum (1993)
  • Ellie Oppenheim (2000)
  • Manuel Mollinedo (2003)
  • Jon Kirk Mukri (2004)
or none of them at all. All of these general managers were chosen by previous mayors to run the department and could be considered a reasonable example of someone now-Mayor Garcetti might choose. Some of the four were very popular with their employees.

Everyone I asked did spend time thinking about their answers, but ultimately it has been unanimous so far:

Jon Kirk Mukri, 8 - 0

Mukri became GM not very long after I began caring for Amir's Garden following Amir's passing in 2003. He was coming off of experience in straightening out the General Services Department - a true 'managers' department, with very little direct public interaction. Given the mess he corrected there, it was clear this guy was a very good manager in the literal sense of the word.

That said, the Department of Recreation and Parks is a very different beast from General Services. Public interaction at every turn is mandatory.

First time I ran into the gentleman face to face was at an Arts Parks Committee meeting at City Hall in 2004. Every City employee in the room was dutifully spewing the praises of the impending Consolidation and creation of the now-defunct Office of Public Safety. Most of us parks advocates in the room were there to pull the Park Ranger Division out of that consolidation and keep them in our parks where they rightfully belong.

The spewing was thick in there and the whole meeting was pretty ugly - loaded with obscene revisionist history which is something the City specializes in. As the meeting ended, Mukri came over to us parks advocates in the audience and said something that was one of the pro-Consolidation bullshit bullet-point guarantees designed to assuage the fears of the unwashed masses. None of of those guarantees ever later materialized, by the way. Pretty sure I responded with something like "Stop insulting our intelligence!" Because, in all honesty, the entire plan created by Wendy Greuel and James Hahn stunk to high hell. 

That was how new RAP GM Mukri was publicly introduced to "the community" he would have to work with for the next decade. And you know what? The man never insulted our intelligence again. He's been a pretty straight shooter to both politicians and the community alike, even when we vehemently disagreed with him.

So here we are in 2013, and Mukri has had to reapply for his job along with the 30-some odd other City general managers. That process is kind of insulting, really. It's one thing to carefully evaluate current managers, but another to treat them like political and managerial neophytes.

That said, would you recommend that Jon Kirk Muki keep his job?

I absolutely would.

Which GM should be fired first?

Gelfand asked for input on this in his CityWatch piece. I never saw him report out on the feedback, but a great candidate to get the axe first is Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnett. Many reasons why, and LA Weekly details a lot of them, but that's a subject for a different article.