Readers have been asking for an update on my report about Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and his frequent screwball mailings at taxpayer expense, and I thought now would be as good a time as any to fill you in on the latest.
If you missed my June 11 column, Antonovich is fond of putting staffers and clerks to work sending phonebook-size collections of his favorite “news” items to a few hundred friends and colleagues. Each time Uncle Mike gets the urge to regale pals with his ding-a-ling discoveries, it costs us several thousand dollars in printing and mailing costs, not to mention the much larger manpower tab.
The material has included a report that the Russians removed Saddam’s WMDs before the U.S. could locate them, a photo caption suggesting that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa attended a “Marxist” law college, and my personal favorite -- a story reporting that there’s mathematical proof of God’s existence.
Columnist Ann Coulter pops up regularly in the mailings, as do inspirational stories of spiritual healing.
The packets also contain bona fide news reports and policy studies, but even so, you have to wonder why anyone would want Antonovich to waste time gathering and sending such items on the county dime when that stuff is available to anyone with a computer or nearby news rack.
A reader named Steve Parker got worked into a lather when he read my column and e-mailed Antonovich to demand an explanation.
The supervisor responded in writing, calling my column “way off the wall” and defending his mailed articles as “pro-Israel, anti-terrorist, pro-legal immigration, anti-illegal immigration,” saying they included “topics affecting Los Angeles County and the world.”
“Interesting that those who claim to advocate freedom of expression are really ‘thought police’ using their political correctness to suppress other points of view that support the State of Israel and the efforts against terrorism,” Antonovich continued.
Hmmm, I guess I didn’t absorb the import or timeliness of references to the sins of Bill Clinton, the “discovery” of Noah’s Ark, how to cure a hiatal hernia, and second- and third-hand e-mailed references to Secret Service allegations that “Yes, Kennedy did have Marilyn Monroe flown in for secret ‘dates.’ And LBJ really was a typical Texas ‘good ole boy’ womanizer,” but that “Nixon, Bush 41, and Carter never cheated on their wives.”
If Antonovich finds this sort of thing illuminating or relevant, good for him. But like I said the first time, he ought not be sticking the public with the cost of his collected wisdom.
And, as noted previously, that exact cost is difficult to determine, given an executive accounting system that seems almost intentionally set up to obscure the expenses piled up by each supervisor. In fact, county staffers are under orders to immediately report all requests for billing information, such as mine, to the supervisors. It’s a nice little heads-up.
As you might recall, I had a scheduled meeting with the supervisor following the first article. I could be wrong, but I was under the impression that Antonovich flack Tony Bell didn’t respond when I asked if the meeting was still on. But even so, you’d think we could simply reschedule, or that Antonovich could answer my questions by phone, right?
Apparently not, as I found out after sending this e-mail to Bell:
“I’d like to know if your boss ... intends to stop the mailings and reimburse the county for the expense, and if not why not?”
When I got no answer, I sent another e-mail complaining about the non-response and got this from Bell.
“No non-response, Steve. You’re (sic) were the no-show at the meeting we had scheduled for Monday.”
The exchanges went on like that until I sent this note to Bell:
“I feel like I’m back in sixth grade. You have not answered the two questions, so let me repeat them: Will he stop these mailings at taxpayer expense? And will he reimburse the county for those already sent?”
Here was Bell’s response:
“Asked and answered. Have a nice weekend.”
You’d think there’d be a more helpful attitude from an office so obsessed with spiritual deliverance, but such is the legendary arrogance of Supervisor Antonovich.
He is the unofficial leader, or county mayor, of a board notorious for its lack of accountability in handling a nearly $20-billion budget, its fat bundles of discretionary funds, its private discussions of public matters, and its farcical photo-op public meetings that run for hours while problems fester in county jails, hospitals and youth services, all too often resulting in death.
For these and other reasons, including several good leads from readers, I’m just going to have to continue sniffing around the county offices in the months to come. Especially since so many irate taxpayers have asked me to keep it up.
“Is there any way to bring an audit?” asked a reader named Tom, who wisely recommended a proposal requiring each supervisor to keep an accurate account of individual mailings.
“Have you considered the legal point that Antonovich is reprinting copyrighted material without the copyright owners’ permission and then sending it through the mail?” asked Dale, raising a perfectly good concern.
“When you speak with Antonovich would you ask him to focus more on paving and fixing the roads in Altadena than on sending out the information you described?” asked Jackie, who said Altadena Drive is like a back road in Angeles National Forest.
These are all excellent questions, but as noted, Antonovich doesn’t seem to be taking my calls. I suggest readers go ahead and give him a try at (213) 974-5555, and don’t forget to tell him I said hello.
Any information regarding sloth, ineptitude or flim-flam in county government, or anywhere else for that matter, should be sent immediately to firstname.lastname@example.org