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LAFD ordered to open files to watchdog

August 7, 2012 |  1:39 pm

FULL COVERAGE: LAFD data controversy

The Los Angeles Fire Department's Board of Fire Commissioners voted Tuesday to give the department's internal watchdog access to restricted personnel files.

Independent Assessor Stephen Miller had asked the commissioners to order Fire Chief Brian Cummings to provide him access to all Fire Department records, as well as permission to interview any employee in the department.

Whether the independent assessor should have access to confidential employee information has been the subject of extended debate. In a 2010 letter, city lawyers said Miller should not have access to personnel files. Cummings said his office's lawyer agrees it would be illegal.

Before casting their vote to open the records, several commissioners lashed out at the city attorney's office and its opinion.

Commissioner Alan J. Skobin said he thought city attorneys had done a poor job preparing the office's legal opinion. He said he is still awaiting a convincing explanation of the office's legal reasoning. 

"We need to understand and reconcile inconsistent advice that we don't find the adequate support for and we have been crying out, 'Please' for two years," he said, wagging his finger at a lawyer from the Los Angeles city attorney's office. "A 10-year-old kid could read this stuff and say there are different opinions."

Commission President Genethia Hudley-Hayes said access to employee records is essential for Miller to do his job.

"If you can't look at foundation documents, all you can do is ask somebody if things were done correctly," she said. "How am I going to know [the truth] if I can't look at source material?"

The office of the independent assessor was approved by voters in 2009, partly in response to soaring settlement costs in employee harassment and discrimination lawsuits at the Fire Department.

According to the city charter, the independent assessor reports to the Fire Commission and has the power and duty to "audit, assess and review the Fire Department's handling of complaints of misconduct committed by employees, sworn or civilian."

Commissioner Andrew Friedman abstained from the vote.


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-- Ben Welsh at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: LAFD Chief Brian Cummings addresses a recent city Fire Commission meeting. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times