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Council to Give Up Reins of Troubled Housing Authority

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to relinquish control of the city Housing Authority after implementing a series of management reforms designed to set the troubled agency on a steady course.

Mayor Tom Bradley is expected soon to relieve the council of the job of overseeing the agency and to appoint a citizens’ commission to supervise it instead. The members will probably be the same people who have served during the last year as a housing advisory committee to the council, Deputy Mayor Grace Davis said.

Two years ago, Bradley asked the council to take charge of the Housing Authority and to implement various management reforms. Ever since, council members have grappled not only with major policy decisions but also with the agency’s most tedious minutiae--such as how many frost-free refrigerators to buy for the agency’s 31,000 low-income housing units.

“I think we have made some very substantial changes that will eventually reflect on better service to those families who live in the projects,” said Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores.

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While council members congratulated themselves for shaping up the agency, the controversial executive director, Homer Smith, sat grimly in silence.

The council has approved 35 reforms aimed at overhauling his management of the agency to produce a higher level of efficiency.

One key change was the elimination of Smith’s top aide, who city officials say has been “calling the shots” for him. Smith fought the recommendations all the way to the council floor.

Even as the council attempted to put old controversies to rest, Councilman Ernani Bernardi, a longtime critic of Smith, raised a new charge.

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He claimed that a survey of employees at the Housing Authority had been purged to protect Smith.

The survey, performed by private consultants at a cost of about $62,000, failed to report that the agency’s supervisory and administrative personnel recommended that both Smith and his top aide be removed from their posts, Bernardi said. Documents obtained by The Times supported Bernardi’s contention.

Not in Final Report

“The final report did not include that,” said Bernardi, who has long charged that Smith is an incompetent administrator who has been protected by top city officials. “I have to suspect that the consultant was pressured into deleting that.”

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Faye Washington in the office of the city legislative analyst said the consultant omitted the information from the report’s final draft in an effort to “depersonalize” the report.

One other question that must be resolved to ensure an orderly transition of power from the council to the new citizens’ commission is whether the new commissioners will be insured against liability in the event a lawsuit arises from their actions as commissioners.

Expressed Their Concern

Several members of the housing advisory committee expressed alarm earlier this year upon learning that the Housing Authority’s public officials’ liability insurance policy had been canceled. When they questioned whether they had been left without protection from lawsuits, they received what they called an indefinite response from the office of the city attorney.

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Panel member Dori Pye was so concerned that she questioned whether the panel should even meet again.

And Chairman Alvin Greene noted that because of the “reasonably knotty problems” the committee has been dealing with, “one would not necessarily say that this is an untroubled place to be.”


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