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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Broken Promise: Mukri Out at Rec and Parks … Public is the Big Loser

Scooped everyone's asses today with my article today for CityWatch.

Will get no credit anywhere for doing so.

Broken Promise: Mukri Out at Rec and Parks … Public is the Big Loser

VIEWS ALONG THE WAY-Although there is a pretty good paper trail in the press documenting the promise, the Mayor’s Office has changed their collective mind -- Jon Kirk Mukri (Photo left with Jan Perry) will, in fact, not be returning to manage the Department of Recreation and Parks. Interim General Manager Mike Shull is the Mayor’s new choice to run the department. 

Love him or hate him, Jon Kirk Mukri is a hell of a damn good manager. The best the City has. 
Before taking the position at Recreation and Parks – the job he always wanted and truly loved – Mukri reformed a completely dysfunctional General Services Department. 

Always a team player, when asked by Mayor Garcetti to temporarily manage a publicly dysfunctional Department of Transportation, Mukri agreed to do so just until Garcetti’s team could find new blood, an outsider, to take over. 

This past week, the Mayor’s Office has decided not to keep that verbal contract, and the best manager City Hall has is out. The big loser in this decision is the public – the Citizens of Los Angeles. 
From 2004 to 2013, Jon Mukri held Recreation and Parks together, keeping it going and continuing to provide much needed services and improvements to the Los Angeles public and parks users under truly crippling economic hardship - hardship that most of the public never really knew was happening.  

What most don’t fully realize is that during his tenure at Recreation and Parks, Jon Mukri managed to make City Hall electeds look great with new parks and programs in spite of the fact that, simultaneously, his department was being bled dry by the same City Hall people. 

The blood-letting was brutal and extensive. Beginning in 2007, the Mayor and City Hall removed all General Fund subsidies to Recreation and Parks to the tune of tens of millions of dollars annually. 
They then implemented “chargebacks” as a way to take away City Charter-mandated funding – dedicated parks and recreation funding - from the department. Between 2007 and 2013, “chargebacks” from RAP Operations totaled $155 million. City Hall then cut the Recreation and Parks workforce by almost 40%.   

Recreation and Parks is the most direct service-intensive department in the City. Take away the employees, you take away those services, period. 
It’s a testament to the skills of Jon Mukri and that of his chosen team that the Department of Recreation and Parks even exists as a functional entity under such a prolonged blood-letting by City Hall. But not only did the department continue to function, in many brilliant ways they excelled. 
During this time, Jon Murki and his team created 45 brand new City parks, and there are another 30 new parks in the works. 

They created a Public-Partnership Division that has ongoing partnerships with many high-profile non-profits and agencies to its credit at this time.  
The golf concession was spun-off as its own cost center so that it became a revenue-generator instead of costing the department money annually. One Citywide Needs Assessment was completed and a second one is underway. 

Corruption was rooted out within municipal sports and at least one ex-employee went to prison. 

Front-line public safety departments including Police and Fire do not have to pay for water and power in Los Angeles. 
Recreation and Parks is on the front line of public safety. Healthy, available children’s recreation programming keeps an awful lot of kids from getting into real trouble in their lives. This is not some theory to be debated. It’s a well-proven fact. 
On the front line in the field, the department’s Park Rangers are a POST-certified peace officer agency patrolling parks and recreation centers.  It doesn’t get any more front line that that. 

But through “chargebacks”, the Department of Recreation and Parks does have to pay anyway, to the tune of $20-30 million annually. 

Jon Mukri took on the job of offsetting this impact.  State of the art artificial turf fields are in the process of being installed City-wide as water-saving and maintenance reducing measures. Water consumption was reduced by 35% through the installation of green technologies and practices.  

Best environmental practices were utilized to restore a heavily impacted Griffith Park after the significant damage it sustained in the 2007 fire, and hundreds of acres of the park were added through the Save the Hollywood Sign campaign. 

During his tenure, the department installed almost 30 universal playgrounds including the region’s first universal access baseball field, increasing inclusive play across Los Angeles. 

Mukri was also a proponent of ERIP – the incentive plan to allow senior, experienced employees retire early, stating that “ERIP provided a more sensible program to reduce personnel costs while maintaining the dignity of the exceptional employees of our City”.
Then there are the Quimby funds. Quimby funds are assessed fees on development projects that significantly impact the immediate neighborhood. They are required to be spent on recreation with a mile or so of the project as a remediation for the project to those directly impacted, and that makes sense from a social justice standpoint. Those directly impacted receive remediation. 

As they did with the City-Charter mandated funding for Recreation and Parks, City Hall continues to drool over the thought of taking the Quimby pot of money for their own pet projects. During his tenure, Mukri’s team created a GIS system to manage this nearly intractable and tightly regulated funding.

Mukri himself managed to keep that pot of funding from the same fate as the City charter mandated funds.  Today it remains within Recreation and Parks, being used for the legally-defined purpose. 
That won’t last long with Mukri out - you can be pretty sure that City Hall will soon pass a Charter change that allows them to take these monies, too. 

Previous Mayor Villaraigosa’s office continually threatened Mukri with removal through the subtle, personal touch of the hideously over-promoted egomaniac, Jeff Carr.  Throughout the personal threats, Mukri continued to make them look good over and over – “them” including then-Councilmember Garcetti. Mukri always had a way of giving the City Hall vultures what they wanted, but managed to do it without losing the recreation programming so needed in this City. 

That is a hell of a talent, and a commitment by the gentlemen to the Citizens of Los Angeles. Other good managers receiving the Jeff Carr treatment eventually gave up and bailed – Bill Robertson retired (and sadly passed away shortly thereafter), and Rita Robinson left for a job with Los Angeles County. Only Jon Mukri remained dedicated to the mission. 

When Garcetti was elected, there were a lot of questions as to whether they would keep Jon Mukri in Recreation and Parks. "Those in the know" were saying that Mayor Garcetti would be exacting revenge on the Recreation and Parks' General Manager because Mukri's significant other, Claire Bartels,was Wendy Gruel's chief of staff when Greuel was a councilmember and Deputy Controller when Greuel was elected City Controller. 

Instead of being removed outright, Mukri was asked to clean up the Department of Transportation, and was clearly promised to be returned to Recreation and Parks when a new general manager was found. That promise was published widely enough at the time to easily corroborate it. 

Unfortunately, as longtime City Hall observers like Ron Kaye and others have pointed out extensively, Mayor Garcetti and his people cannot be trusted. They blow with the breeze. They tell you one thing then do another as easily as they choose what tie the Mayor will wear or when the Mayor should drop an f-bomb. 

It probably isn’t a surprise to anyone then that the Mayor’s people are pulling Mukri out of the Department of Recreation and Parks now. 

Jon Mukri would be at retirement age in a year, and he is not getting the chance to retire out of the department and mission he loved.  A year goes by quickly, and it’s sad that such a committed and talented public servant is not being afforded even this small token in return for service above and beyond the call of duty. 

Given the real talent this gentleman has, it is the Citizens of Los Angeles and our City parks who are being punished. 

Ironically Ms. Claire Bartels remains in the Deputy Controller position today. 

Recreation and Parks was pretty much the last department standing, having not had its leadership replaced with vacuous yes men or unknowing outsiders. A department that hadn’t been bled dry of decency and the leadership that somehow finds a way to provide actual services to tax payers. 

Mike Shull is the new General Manager, effective any day now. He was part of Jon Mukri’s team as the department’s chief engineer – the new construction guy. All of City Hall loves the new construction Shull has done for them over the years.  

The recreation function of the department is what is most threatened by City Hall’s financial draining. 
We’ll find out if the Mayor’s new general manager is up to this challenge, or if recreation will finally die in Los Angeles.