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City attorney, fire commissioners clash over LAFD's personnel files

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A fight over who runs the Los Angeles Fire Department and therefore who should have access to records containing confidential employee information erupted today at the Board of Fire Commissioners.

The Fire Commission’s independent assessor is responsible for auditing, assessing and reviewing the LAFD’s handling of complaints against sworn and civilian employees.  Last week, the man tasked with that job, Stephen Miller, told the Los Angeles Times he is being denied access to the records he needs. Miller appealed to the commission, noting that the city charter allows him to have the same access to information as the Board of Commissioners. 

That point set off a discussion on what commissioners are allowed to review. Pete Echeverria with the City Attorney’s Office told commissioners they cannot have unfettered access to personnel records because only the fire chief is responsible for disciplining employees.

That answer did not sit well with commissioners.

“I think it undermines civilian oversight to suggest that we can ask the department to give us a summary of information. I think it absolutely undermines civilian oversight, which is the underpinning of what any commission is about,” said Alan Skobin, the newest member of the board.

The panel’s president, Genethia Hudley-Hayes, said that policy makes both the independent assessor and commission irrelevant. However, the president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City argued the independent assessor should not have access to the personnel files because they are beyond the intended scope of his work. 

"Please, stop moving forward on things that keep damaging firefighters, damaging public confidence, and harming our discipline system," said Pat McOsker. 

In a 3-2 vote, the commission asked Chief Brian Cummings to work with Miller in providing him with the documents he needs for his audits. However, the commission declined to ask a court to determine whether the charter provides the independent assessor and commissioners with access to the files.

Los Angeles voters created the office of the independent assessor in 2009 as a check on LAFD management.

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