The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) is the latest department to fall victim to the oversight and accountability scrum that starts when the media shines a spotlight and concludes when the public gets bored.
Along the way, the City Controller and the City Council will elbow each other out of the way in an effort to get to the press conference where they will ask "How did someone get away with this?" and they will declare “They cannot walk away and say ‘I don't know.’” and then conclude “It seems like there was no one in charge ... we need to get to the bottom of it.” (Zine, Cardenas, Greuel)
(Ed note: Mayor Villaraigosa sent a letter on Monday to the Board of Commissioners overseeing the HACLA urging reform.)
There are three things wrong with the current scenario over at HACLA, in addition to the $1.2 million pay-off to the terminated GM and the ongoing investigations into corruption, malfeasance, incompetence, and failure to perform.
First, it’s old news yet the folks at City Hall react as if this behavior is unique, rare, and shocking. It isn’t. It’s business as usual in a city that allows departments that are “flush with cash” to conduct business with little, if any, interference from the Department of What-the-Hell!
It was HACLA’s current CEO, Ken Simmons, who excused the financial indiscretions of the past by explaining that the agency was “flush with cash.”
During last year’s budget hearings, the LADOT’s Acting GM, Amir Sedadi, defended the large number of bonuses in his department by explaining “Our contract allows it.” Forget about the staffing reductions and the dramatic budget cuts, it was business as usual in a department that was “flush with cash” that comes from parking revenue.
This sense of entitlement is the norm, not the exception, as evidenced by city employees from many different departments who appeared before City Council during the staffing cuts and proclaimed, “You can’t cut me, I’m special funded!”
Second, it’s a familiar pattern of abuse that occurs because oversight and accountability can’t find a place in departments that get their marching orders from the Mayor, implemented by General Managers who serve at his pleasure and condoned by Kabuki Theater Commissions armed with rubber stamps.
The charade of citizen oversight allows the Mayor to reward supporters with impotent positions of honor and to fast track ambitious allies on a trail that meanders from the Taxi Commission and the Transportation Commission before hitting the lucrative Public Works Commission payday that comes with an annual salary of $123,317 plus car!
Third, it’s an example of the disparity between the “flush with cash” departments and the “general fund” departments, one that keeps the public embroiled in budget crisis triage while Airports, Ports, and Water & Power operate as if sovereign nations.
Add to the mix any department that has federal, state and county money, (Housing, Transportation, Public Works, etc) and these are the departments that are operating with Mayoral impunity, partnering with private sector in deals that benefit Mayoral allies while the public debates broken sidewalks and collapsing infrastructure.
Periodically, the public catches a glimpse of the departmental debauchery that squanders LA’s financial future while failing to deliver on the departmental mandates and the Mayor begins the sacrifices, typically starting with General Managers who have worn out their welcome.
Over the last few years, Mayor Villaraigosa has sung praises to newly appointed General Managers, only to leave town while they receive their walking papers and parting gifts, souvenirs of a tour of duty as Mayoral cannon fodder.
Ultimately, the controversy at HACLA is something that local landlords know about, they’ve been complaining of abuses at the hands of HACLA for years. Neighbors know of the problems because they watch squatters run rampant in City of LA properties while nothing is done. Residents know of the departmental failures that result in a lose-lose situation that punishes participants at every turn.
HACLA is responsible for more than a billion dollars of public money that is meant to be spent providing affordable housing options and supportive services to the people of Los Angeles.
While the City of LA continues to balance the budget on the backs of the people it serves, departments such as HACLA continue to enjoy the “For Better” side of the relationship while the people of LA suffer through the “For Worse” end.