Bratton Absent From City Bond Oversight Panel
The Los Angeles City Council took the unusual step Tuesday of agreeing to have a letter sent to Police Chief William J. Bratton requesting that he begin attending monthly meetings of top officials managing a $600-million police bond measure, after a citizens group complained that he has been AWOL.
Leaders of a citizens committee created by the city to oversee the bond measure, including former City Controller Rick Tuttle, said the chief’s frequent absences from a separate administrative panel come at a time when cost overruns on the bond projects could threaten construction of police stations.
Bratton is a member of the Administrative Oversight Committee, which makes executive decisions on the bond program, but he has sent an assistant chief to more than two dozen of the monthly meetings, Tuttle said.
“He has been absent without leave from this committee,” Tuttle told the council, arguing that the chief’s direct attention and power are needed to keep the projects on track.
The council directed the five-member administrative panel to send a letter to the chief asking him to attend its meetings.
“I think he needs to be at these meetings and shepherd this process,” said Councilwoman Janice Hahn. “It is also about making sure the public has trust in us when we go back to them to spend more of their dollars.”
The citizens committee overseeing the bond project includes Tuttle and is headed by John Greenwood, a real estate agent.
In a rare public airing of a dispute between top officials, Tuttle and Greenwood attended the City Council meeting to criticize Bratton for being absent at a time when the city is trying to overcome $40 million in cost overruns in the bond program.
The citizens and Administrative Oversight committees were created by the city as required by Proposition Q, the $600-million bond measure approved by Los Angeles voters in March 2002 to build 13 police stations and a new central jail and fire dispatch center.
The Administrative Oversight Committee is made up of the city administrative officer, the chief legislative analyst, the mayor, the fire chief and Bratton.
Bratton, who has faced criticism for his frequent travels from the city, was out of town Tuesday, so an assistant chief, Sharon Papa, handled media inquiries.
Police Administrator Rhonda L. Sims-Lewis told the council that the chief has intended to attend meetings but has been drawn away by other pressing matters.
“He will attempt in the future to make a meeting if he can,” she said.
Papa, who has been attending meetings of the panel on behalf of the chief, said she briefs the chief after each meeting and Bratton is fully involved in the process.
Not all the council members were concerned. Councilman Jack Weiss said he has confidence that Bratton is kept informed about the bond program.
Bratton, Weiss said, “is dragged in 5 million directions on a daily basis, many of which are life-and-death situations for the citizens of the city.”
There was also some disagreement on the seriousness of the bond program’s financial problems.
A frenzied building market has driven up construction costs for the bond-funded projects by 20%, or about $40 million, City Administrative Officer Bill Fujioka told the council.
Fujioka said interest earned on bonds and savings on land purchases have offset much of the increase.
“Clearly, we are all concerned about the cost overruns we are seeing in all of the programs,” Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller said.
But “no projects are in danger at this point,” he added. “We are watching very closely.”
However, Tuttle and Greenwood warned the council that if construction costs continue to rise or other problems continue, the bond projects could run out of money and time.
Bids are still not in on four projects: a fire dispatch center, a replacement for the Hollenbeck Police Station, a North Valley Police Station and a 512-bed central jail.
“The problem is, if we take another hit, we could have partly done police stations, we could have renovations which are not complete,” Tuttle said. “And it will be 18 months from now, and then everyone will say, ‘Where was the chief of police?’ ”
Papa said the chief shares the concern about keeping the projects on track.
“I think they will get built, but we may have to scale them back,” she said.
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