City Atty. James K. Hahn said Monday that his office will launch an investigation into the contracting practices of Los Angeles City Housing Authority chief Leila Gonzalez-Correa if the City Council authorizes it.
Meanwhile, records obtained by The Times and interviews show that the agency’s Police Department was used on at least two occasions to investigate critics of Gonzalez-Correa.
In November, Housing Authority police conducted a personal background investigation of a top aide to Gonzalez-Correa after he had criticized the handling of the agency’s $1-million computer system. Gonzalez-Correa said she fired the administrator, Dana Stern, when the investigation disclosed that his California driver’s license had been suspended.
In the second incident, the agency’s police contacted Patricia Tyus, one of at least a dozen Housing Authority tenant activists who demanded Gonzalez-Correa’s resignation in December, 1987. Documents show that police questioned Tyus to determine whether she had indeed signed a petition sent to Mayor Tom Bradley.
“It struck me as extremely inappropriate,” said Elaine Mallette, a Legal Aid Foundation attorney who lodged a formal complaint on behalf of Tyus. “What was really unnerving about it to me was that it was a clear intimidation tactic.” The Times was unable to contact Tyus.
Sources at the Housing Authority, who asked not to be named, told The Times that Gonzalez-Correa, who is under fire for violating federal contracting regulations while awarding business to her acquaintances, has used threats of dismissal and disciplinary action to silence her critics.
In one case, Gonzalez-Correa demanded that a deputy city attorney be investigated and disciplined for taking a sworn affidavit from a top Housing Authority administrator who had accused her of “gross mismanagement,” records show.
Monday’s announcement that the city attorney’s office wants to investigate the contracting irregularities followed a report in The Times on Friday that Gonzalez-Correa had steered more than $200,000 in contracts to her acquaintances and to Bradley supporters without soliciting competitive bids or seeking board approval as required by federal regulations and the agency’s own purchasing policy.
Hahn initially expressed an interest in investigating the contracting practices at a meeting Sunday with Councilman Nate Holden, said city attorney’s spokesman Mike Qualls. Holden, who is running for mayor against Bradley, said Monday at a press conference that he will introduce in the City Council today a motion seeking a “thorough and unbiased” investigation by the city attorney’s office.
Housing Authority board members, appointed by Bradley to oversee the agency, appointed a committee Friday to study ways to tighten contracting regulations and require Gonzalez-Correa to follow the rules.
“I am not going to allow the commissioners of the Housing Authority to investigate this action and allow theirs to be the final word,” said Holden in seeking a city attorney’s investigation. “The Housing Authority should not be investigating itself because this investigation must be more than a whitewash.”
The Housing Authority police investigation and subsequent firing of computer specialist Stern stemmed from a dispute over the implementation of the agency’s computer system.
At a Nov. 18 board meeting, Stern, the new management information systems officer, told commissioners that an implementation report had “overstated” the status of the software programs. Stern said that the computer system was behind schedule and that many of the software programs were not functioning.
The report was filed by Marsha Hartline, who is an acquaintance of Gonzalez-Correa. She later went to work for the company that installed and services the system, she told The Times.
Three days later, Stern reported that “a large number of documents relating to very highly sensitive negotiations had been removed from the computer’s data banks without his knowledge or permission,” according to a Housing Authority police report. On Nov. 24, the agency’s Police Department submitted a memo to Police Chief Marshall Anderson disclosing that an investigation uncovered that Stern’s driver’s license had been suspended.
Stern was fired four days later. Gonzalez-Correa said in a recent interview that Stern was a poor employee and the suspended license was an excuse to dismiss him. She said Stern’s job required having a valid driver’s license.
“Unfortunately, this is California,” Gonzalez-Correa said. “It’s not Texas. In Texas it wouldn’t have taken me five minutes to fire him.”
Stern has hired an attorney and said he intends to file a lawsuit alleging that he was illegally fired for being a whistle-blower.
Records in the Housing Authority told of the investigation of housing project activist Tyus.
The Housing Authority police officer who contacted Tyus, Walter McKinney, is the same officer who investigated Stern, records show.
“The action of Officer McKinney was clearly out of line,” wrote Mallette, the Legal Aid attorney, in a letter to Chief Anderson.
“It is our expectation that he will be disciplined,” the letter added, “and that all members of the Housing Authority police will be advised that they are not to harass or otherwise infringe upon the rights of the residents.”
Anderson could not be reached for comment Monday. In a brief interview, McKinney said Housing Authority police supervisors assigned him to contact Tyus. “I was ordered to do that,” he said.
“We have a responsibility if someone is making allegations of fraud or misconduct,” Hahn said in an interview. “That is something that we want to take seriously. It’s not something that we want to have swept under the rug.”