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Chick Calls for Better Oversight

Times Staff Writer

The city of Los Angeles still is getting fleeced untold amounts of money each year on its construction contracts, Controller Laura Chick said in a wide-ranging interview with City Hall reporters Tuesday.

“The city does not do oversight of our contracts -- to find that there has been overbilling, fraudulent billing, excessive billing and unreasonable markups is no big surprise,” Chick said. “Sometimes I’m surprised there isn’t more of it. I am sure that the word is out there with businesses that do business with the city that you don’t have to worry too much about that, and we need to change that.”

Such statements are typical from the feisty Chick, who a couple of times each year tosses a plateful or two of doughnuts onto a table in her City Hall East office and invites reporters for mostly on-the-record sessions on her take on local government.

On Tuesday, Chick said she still is not persuaded that the city does enough to rein in costs on construction contracts. One idea she said she will push is having the city do pre-audits of firms who are finalists for contracts to determine whether they are financially viable and capable of doing work without running up costs.

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Chick also said that it continues to bother her that the city lacks a single database to track contracts. “When you ask the question how much business does Company X do with the city, we can’t tell you,” she said.

Other matters discussed by Chick included:

* Her plans to audit the city’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, which oversees the neighborhood council system. Chick said she wants to see what kind of oversight the agency provides and how some of the councils are spending their money.

* Her views on the indictment of former Airport Commissioner Leland Wong last week on charges of bribery: She believes that a ban on candidate fundraising by commissioners has helped curtail possible abuses but that the city must remain vigilant.

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* Her criticism of the Nov. 7 ballot measure that would ease term limits for City Council members but not the three citywide offices -- mayor, city attorney and controller.

One of her complaints: With the mayor’s post coming open more frequently than the council seats, it would invite more council members -- who have the advantage of incumbency -- to neglect their jobs in order to launch mayoral bids while still in office.

Chick said that would “wreak havoc” with the council and become a “feeding frenzy.”

* Her agreement with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on most policy issues, most notably his attempt to gain some control of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Chick said she was convinced when the school board last winter rebuffed her attempts to do an outside audit of the district.

“In this case I have become very simplistic in my view,” Chick said. “There is no accountability, and there is no transparency in the L.A. Unified School District, and there will never be unless something radical pushes it.”

Calling Villaraigosa’s attempts to take control “heroic,” Chick added: “I have no faith left in the school board and the superintendent form of LAUSD governance as it exists today. None. It’s seven board members from seven districts, and no one has the overarching responsibility and vision for the entire district.”


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