D. A. to Probe Charges About Torrance Clerk

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office has decided to conduct a full investigation into allegations that City Clerk Donna Babb used public funds and staff members for personal and political purposes.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Candace Beason of the special investigations division said the department's preliminary review of the charges warranted the full investigation. City staff members are being interviewed and financial reports submitted by Babb are being reviewed, Beason said.

"We want to complete this as soon as possible," Beason said. "When these types of allegations are made about public officials a cloud is placed over them. That certainly is not fair."

Babb, who said she has not yet been contacted by Beason, said she expects the investigation to exonerate her of all charges. "My office is open to anyone," she said.

Bad Light on City

Some City Council members and department heads have privately complained that the matter is casting a bad light on the city, which prides itself on being almost boringly squeaky clean. However, city officials acknowledged that there is little they can do because Babb is an elected official responsible only to the voters.

"It's unfortunate for the city, particularly when there is nothing to justify it," Babb said of the investigation. "This situation has been blown out of proportion. There is no dirty laundry."

Deputy City Clerk Dora Hong made the allegations against Babb in a Feb. 19 memo to City Manager LeRoy Jackson. In that memo, Hong, who has been on the job only eight months, accused Babb of using city funds to have personal items framed, padding expense vouchers and having a staff member type a term paper for her. Hong also accused Babb of violating employees' civil rights by requiring staff members to pray with her before a staff meeting and trying to impose her religious beliefs on them.

Separate Inquiry

Allegations involving civil rights violations would be investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles said she could neither confirm nor deny that an investigation is under way.

Meanwhile, another flap has arisen over Babb's spending, this time for a $700 advertisement describing the functions of the city clerk that appeared in the Daily Breeze newspaper.

Finance Director William Dundore said a requisition and purchase order should have been submitted specifying the amount and nature of the ad before it was published. The City Manager would then decide whether or not to authorize the expenditure. Jackson said that if the city clerk's ad had been submitted to him first, he probably would not have approved such a large expenditure.

But Babb submitted the paper work after the ad ran on Feb. 28.

No Choice

Dundore said the city had no choice but to pay for the ad. The funds came out of an account for "citizens participation and elections." Dundore said payment out of that account could be justified because the ad included information on voter registration.

Hong last week also accused Babb of trying to pay for the ad out of an account for legal advertisements. Legal advertisements announce public hearings, bids or other notices required by law.

Hong said Babb signed the bill as she would for legal notices and submitted it without a copy of the ad.

Babb said the incident was a simple mistake. She said she submitted the bill without a copy of the ad attached, as she does with legal notices, "not to be deceitful, but just as a matter of routine." Dundore confirmed that bills for legal notices do not normally include copies of the ad.

The city clerk said she was not aware of the final cost until after the ad ran, but defended its placement in a special supplement of the newspaper called Welcome Neighbor, saying, "It's not something people wrap their fish in right away, but keep and refer to throughout the year."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World