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Sen. Watson Calls for County Budget Audit

TIMES STAFF WRITER

State Sen. Diane Watson called Thursday for a state audit of Los Angeles County’s $12-billion budget after reports that the financially strapped county found millions of dollars to pay bonuses to top officials, remodel and furnish offices and finance pet projects of the Board of Supervisors.

Watson (D-Los Angeles) also proposed creation of an elected county auditor, counsel and treasurer who would root out frivolous spending.

“There apparently is no accountability in a budget system which allows (millions of dollars) to be spent on the facade of the county’s administrative force while the foundation and infrastructure of critical services crumbles from neglect,” said Watson, who has declared her intention to seek Supervisor Kenneth Hahn’s seat.

The Times reported Thursday that the supervisors’ budget has increased steadily despite the county’s fiscal problems and that the board has used funds for full-time calligraphers who turn out honorary scrolls, as well as for bulletproof cars that cost $70,000 each, speech writers and gifts to dignitaries.

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It was earlier reported that $6.1 million was spent remodeling and adding equipment to the chief administrative officer’s suite of offices and that county employees received $3 million in bonuses.

“It’s scandalous,” Watson said at a news conference at the County Hall of Administration. “I think the Board of Supervisors has to wake up. They’ve been asleep at the switch. They’ve enjoyed the cover of anonymity.”

Dawson Oppenheimer, spokesman for board Chairman Mike Antonovich, said of Watson’s proposals, “I don’t believe she was talking as a state senator. I believe she was talking as a candidate for the Board of Supervisors.”

Chief Administrative Officer Richard B. Dixon could not be reached.

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Spokesmen for Supervisors Hahn and Gloria Molina said they welcome a state audit. A spokesman for Supervisor Ed Edelman said Edelman has not taken a position on either Watson proposal, but pointed out that the supervisor supports creation of an elected “county mayor.”

Los Angeles County is one of only four counties in the state without an elected auditor.

Auditor-Controller Daniel O. Ikemoto, appointed by the supervisors, said: “I don’t think an elected auditor would make any difference. We are not being constrained by the board in what audits we can do.”

He added, “I don’t need to spend any time campaigning or collecting campaign funds.”

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A state audit of the county budget would require the approval of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, said acting state Auditor General Kurt Sjoberg. Watson said she will ask supervisors to schedule a public vote on a Charter amendment to create an elected auditor, counsel and treasurer. If they refuse, she said she will ask the Legislature to independently put the measure on the ballot.

Hahn has defended the county’s system of delegating broad discretion for spending decisions to department chiefs and especially to Dixon.

“We trust him to thoroughly go over every department budget so that when it is presented to us, there is no fat in it,” Hahn recently told The Times. “That’s why we pay him a good salary.” Dixon receives $169,520 a year and such perks as a chauffeur and county car.

In defending refurbishment of his office, Dixon last week said that the project involves 91,000 square feet of space for about 300 of his staff. He said that he financed the work out of $25 million saved by his department over the last four years from a reduction in staffing from 682 employees to 440.

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Watson has said that she will run for the 2nd Supervisorial District seat in June--whether or not Hahn seeks reelection--because she believes the time has come for a black supervisor.

The 71-year-old Hahn, who suffered a stroke in 1987 that put him in a wheelchair and forced him to cut back his work schedule, has said that he will announce his plans in late October.

Others who have been mentioned as possible candidates include U.S. Reps. Julian Dixon and Maxine Waters, former County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke and City Councilman Nate Holden. Mas Fukai, chief deputy to Hahn, said that he too is interested.


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