Prior to Laura Chick taking office as Los Angeles city controller in 2001, few in the public really paid close attention to the audits that were the exclusive domain of that department.
The charter establishes the controller as an elected official and gives that individual responsibility for serving as the auditor and chief accounting officer of the city.
Among the other duties of the controller are exercising general supervision over the accounts of all officers and departments of the city, including the independent departments of Airports, Water and Power, and Harbor.
The controller also prescribes the method and installation of accounting systems as approved by the Council; records and audits all receipts and disbursements; audits and approves all payments to employees, contractors or vendors; and protects appropriations against overdraft or expenditure for unauthorized purposes.
The controller centrally prepares payrolls and maintains records of payroll deductions for employee participation in group insurance, medical service, and other voluntary activities.
On May 21, voters will go to the polls to decide whether businessman Ron Galperin or Councilman Dennis P. Zine is best suited for the job.
In the primary election on March 5, Galperin led the field of six contenders with 37.77 percent of ballots cast, compared to 36.48 percent for Zine.
Galperin, an attorney by training, has served on a number of local government commissions, including the city's Quality and Productivity, the Revenue Efficiency commissions, as well as the L.A. County Quality and Productivity Commission.
The son of immigrants, Galperin is seeking the city controller post because he wants to bring competence, accountability and sane fiscal management to the city, and believes that the time he has spent heading various municipal commissions gives him the experience and knowledge needed to do this.
The top three issues that Galperin believes need to be addressed are solving the city's ongoing "structural deficit;" having the controller take a more active role in budgeting and budget projections, and adopting budgeting best practices.
Among the areas where he sees a need for policy improvements are in the collection and new revenue arenas; the need to demand and cultivate accountability, quality and efficiency in areas such as city contracting; and investing in the infrastructure of the city, including encouraging business and economic development.
One basic way Galperin says this can be done is to increase the city's spending with L.A.-based businesses.
The controller position is a foundation to city government, believes Galperin, who notes that without well-managed finances, basic municipal functions such as filling potholes and trimming trees cannot be done well.
Zine says he is running for controller because he believes the position is "critical to ensuring honest, transparent government and the protection of taxpayer dollars."
Zine, who has spent 45 years in public service in Los Angeles, including 33 years as an active duty LAPD officer and sergeant and 12 years as a member of the City Council, says these experiences have helped him learn the inner workings of government. Additionally, Zine said he put words into action within his own Council office by coming in 5 to 10 percent under budget each year. This has enabled him to accumulate a $1 million surplus. He reinvested this back into the community in the form of additional street resurfacing, tree trimming and sidewalk repair.
If elected, Zine said his top priority will be to reign in out-of-control spending and liability costs of the Los Angeles Police Department. In particular, Zine is concerned about the millions of dollars paid out annually related to discrimination and harassment cases within the department.
His second priority would be to expand and promote the controller's Waste, Fraud and Abuse unit to put more emphasis on this function of the office.
Finally, Zine would work to restore trust and confidence in government. One way this could happen is by demanding that revenue reports and financial projections be taken into account during budget deliberations and salary negotiations. He will also inform residents and businesses owners about the results of department audits and work to "build partnerships in the community to hold city departments accountable."