Turf War Erupts at Children's Services : Government: Commissioners want access to documents and employees. But new head tells them to leave him alone so he can solve department's problems.


Three weeks after a management shake-up at the troubled Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services, a rift has developed between new interim manager Elwood Lui and the commission that oversees the department, with commissioners complaining that Lui is trying to shut them out of county decision-making.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Ed Edelman met with commission President Helen Kleinberg to try to iron out the conflict, which became public Monday when Kleinberg told a television reporter she thought Lui viewed the commission as his enemy.

Lui said that is not the case. He did say that he wishes the independent citizens commission--which has long been critical of Children's Services officials--would leave him alone for three or four months so he can correct the department's most pressing problems without interference.

"If I don't solve the state problem we could be out of business," Lui said, referring to threats by state officials to take over the department unless the county proves it can comply with state regulations. "If we're out of business, then so is the commission."

Lui was appointed July 31, in the wake of the resignation of Robert L. Chaffee as the department's director. Lui is expected to remain until the county finds a permanent successor.

According to sources on the commission and in the department, the conflict between Lui and the 15-member panel, which advises county supervisors, has been brewing for about two weeks. It revolves around the commission's frustration over lack of access to department documents and employees.

The commission had asked to see copies of a state audit critical of the Children's Services Department. Lui acknowledged Tuesday that he denied the request, saying the document is not public. Commissioners have also complained that Lui instructed his staff not to talk to them and not to attend their meetings.

Meanwhile, County Administrative Officer Richard B. Dixon--to whom Lui reports--is proposing to change the commission's charter to make it harder for commissioners to obtain information from the department. The commission is fighting the proposed change.

"The commission is up in arms," said Commissioner Stacey Winkler. When Lui was appointed, she said, "People were optimistic, willing and hopeful. They are now incensed. They are frustrated. They are saddened."

Kleinberg had no comment after her meeting with Edelman. Joel Bellman, a spokesman for Edelman, said the supervisor is "trying to defuse some of the tension and ease some of the friction. . . . The last thing anybody needs is a shooting war between the Children's Services Commission and the department."

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