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County Administrator Defends $3.4-Million Remodeling Expense : Budget: He says the project improved his staff’s efficiency and working conditions. Critics question the decision during fiscal crisis.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles County’s chief administrative officer reported Friday that he spent $3.4 million on office remodeling, up from the $2.3 million previously projected, but he defended having approved such spending during a county budget crisis.

“The refurbishment project was not for my personal office,” Richard B. Dixon said in a memo to the Board of Supervisors. “It was of 91,000 square feet of space for the approximately 300 professional and secretarial staff and managers occupying the Hall of Administration.”

In addition to the $3.4-million renovation, Dixon said, he spent $2.7 million in taxpayers’ money to buy computers and telephones for his staff.

Dixon prepared the memo in response to a request from board Chairman Mike Antonovich that he justify the expenditure.

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Dixon has recently come under fire from board newcomer Gloria Molina for redecorating his office and awarding bonuses to employees during a budget crisis.

On Friday, Supervisor Deane Dana also asked Dixon for a report on the cost of retreats for county managers in the wake of reports that the financially strapped county sent officials to a resort near Palm Springs in 1989 and 1990 at a cost of $64,000 and plans a third such trip this year.

Dixon said the nearly completed remodeling, carried out over the past year, was the first in nearly 30 years for his suite of offices in the County Hall of Administration. The project included the installation of new carpeting and lighting, painting and the purchase of furniture. In addition, a marble floor was installed at the entrance to Dixon’s office.

“We have nice quarters but not plush,” said Mary Jung, assistant chief administrative officer.

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In his memo, Dixon wrote that “there has been misinformation and misunderstanding . . . of this office’s efforts in improving the working conditions for our employees to enhance productivity.”

He pointed out that he financed the remodeling with part of $25 million saved by his department over the last four years from a reduction in its staffing, from 682 to 440.

“While a significant portion of the $25 million savings was allocated to other county programs over the past four years, the chief administrative officer’s budget did include $2.3 million for the onetime refurbishment project,” he wrote. The additional $1.1 million for the remodeling was gained by imposing a hiring and purchasing freeze in his office last year, he said.

Dixon said the remodeling also freed 20,000 square feet of space in the Hall of Administration, saving other departments the cost of leasing offices. He said the purchase of telephones eliminated the expense of leasing them, and that by buying computers--the department had only one before the purchase of 400--his staff is able to work more quickly with fewer people.

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Antonovich and Molina could not be reached for comment.


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