Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said he will introduce a motion today urging the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners to reject a proposed policy that would ban employees from publicly discussing the agency’s operations.
“I think it is outrageous that any department head in the city would try to discourage an employee of the city from communicating with the public, and particularly communicating with members of the City Council,” Yaroslavsky said in an interview Tuesday. “I think it’s incredibly arrogant and suspicious. . . . What are we trying to hide here?”
The “written and oral communications” policy was introduced by Executive Director Leila Gonzalez-Correa, who has been under fire recently for her contracting practices and her controversial plan to sell the Jordan Downs public housing projects in Watts.
The proposed policy would make it a violation of the Housing Authority personnel manual for employees to write or speak to commissioners, City Council members, government workers and reporters without the executive director’s permission.
In addition, the proposed policy states: “Employees should never express their personal opinion of Authority policy or management operations to tenants or members of the general public, but should confine their remarks to such statement of fact as authorized by this (policy).”
Gonzalez-Correa said Tuesday that the proposal was prepared by her staff without her participation. She said much of the language was picked up from the agency’s existing policy.
“I’m the first one to disagree with this,” Gonzalez-Correa said. “I am a firm believer of rights to people. . . . It is just a draft for comment. There will probably be a lot of changes to it.”
Gonzalez-Correa put the communications ban on the commissioners’ agenda last month after disclosures by The Times that she had ignored federal regulations while awarding more than $200,000 in contracts to her friends and to political supporters of Mayor Tom Bradley. The policy was pulled from the agenda when Gonzalez-Correa became ill and it is expected to be reintroduced at a future meeting.
The newly appointed chairman of the Board of Commissioners, Carl D. Covitz, said Tuesday he was unaware of the proposed policy.
“It would be something I would be very much interested in getting involved in if staff were to make any recommendations of that sort,” Covitz said.
The proposal raises a number of legal and constitutional questions, including an employee’s First Amendment right to speak out, said Deputy City Atty. Dov Lesel, who provides legal advice to the Housing Authority. Lesel said he is researching the policy, which must be approved by housing commissioners.