Fred Croton, the general manager of the city Cultural Affairs Department under fire for his arts-granting procedures, won approval for a round of grant recommendations from a City Council committee Tuesday that voiced "major concerns" over those procedures.

Councilman Dave Cunningham, as chairman of the Grants, Housing and Community Development Committee, approved $65,100 in grant recommendations made by a three-person panel headed by Croton. The monies are funneled to the city by the State/Local Partnership Program of the California Arts Council. The City Council must give final approval for disbursement of the funds, now earmarked for 11 local arts organizations.

Croton, the focus of an unrelated ongoing city investigation into his department's "personnel policies and practices," also was asked about a potential conflict of interest involving a proposed grant recipient who serves on the grant-review panel.

In addition to Croton, the panel consists of Al Nodel, exhibitions director of the Otis/Parsons Art Institute, and Merry Norris, vice president of the Cultural Affairs Commission. Otis/Parsons is earmarked for a $10,000 grant under the Arts Support Grants Program.

Two other organizations, the New Music America Festival and the Los Angeles Theatre Pass, were also approved for $10,000 stipends, the largest awarded by the panel. The smallest grant recommended by the panel was $2,000 to the Lola Montes Dance Company.

Cunningham said he was "greatly concerned" about the "potential conflict of interest" involving Otis/Parsons.

Croton told The Times after the hearing that the council committee was "right to raise the issue," but that "it is nearly impossible" to put together a panel of people with a broad-based knowledge of arts in the city who might not apply for grants themselves.

During the hearing, Cunningham called the panel's failure to provide an appeals process for unsuccessful grant applicants a "major impairment" in its procedures.

Croton acknowledged that he was unaware of such proper grant-award procedures as an appeals process.

"This is the first time" our department has been in the re-granting business (distributing of state funds to local agencies), he said.

"The (Cultural Affairs) department is so small, we couldn't assign someone to a grant-administration job," he said in response to some of Cunningham's objections. Cunningham suggested that information on such procedures was readily available.

Cunningham also questioned the size of the panel and its efforts to consider minority arts groups grant applications.

"Do you think that a three-member committee could be reflective of the large ethnic and cultural community this city serves?" Cunningham asked. "We ought to have a mix of people" to evaluate grant applications, he said.

Croton said that in the early stages of the granting process, his panel mailed out 15,000 to 20,000 applications to individuals and organizations in the minority arts community.

Prior to approval of the grant recommendations, Cunningham told Croton that the errors in panel procedure were probably those "of omission and lack of familiarity."

"But for the next round of grants," Cunningham cautioned, Croton should make certain that his recommendations "reflect the totality of what the city is about, so we can feel good about what we're funding, and to avoid problems such as conflict of interest."

"I appreciate your concerns," Croton said, and "I guarantee we will move to correct" any errors in the future.

Other members of the council committee are Richard Alatorre and Zev Yaroslavsky.

The recommendations are scheduled to go to the full council for final approval today or Thursday, according to Bill Andrews, legislative analyst for the city.

Croton is also involved in a controversy regarding his management of the city's cultural heritage operation. Another City Council committee is looking into the possible transfer of that division from Croton's department to the city's Planning Department.

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