Tuesday, December 22, 2009

L.A. County Board of Supervisors rescind $707,000 office remodel request of Ridley-Thomas.

The report from the L.A. Times, "Amid outcry, L.A. supervisor Ridley-Thomas rethinks plans for $700,000 in office renovations [Updated],"
December 22, 2009 1:36 pm, by Shelby Grad and Molly Hennessy-Fiske

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors finally acted as they should have done in the first place by rescinding the approval that they gave in a near-automatic fashion to Mark Ridley-Thomas, the newest member of the 5-person Board of Supervisors.
If you will recall, that approval was given earlier this month, without any of them questioning the expenditure at all. Three-quarters of a million dollars to be spent on a remodel job for an office? I suppose "lavish" outranks "Spartan" too often in the style that politicians conduct things once in office.

That's over twice the median price of a single-family home in Los Angeles. The vote came today on without any fanfare or comment after the news of the initial approval was learned by more members of the public thanks to reporting by John North at KABC-TV, Channel 7 - You can see that at http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/video?id=7148140

To hear Sup. Ridley-Thomas talk about the plan, you would think he had spent the last year punished as an initiation for his first year as Supervisor. Yes, he was a very arrogant and defiant fellow, so eager to treat himself well with public money.

Sup. Don Knabe was on the radio the following Friday on KFI-AM 640 in response to an inquiry over the unanimous approval of Ridley-Thomas' request. Knabe was initally unconcerned and said in a casual fashion, in reply to the question, "Why did you approve all that money for the office remodelling?," "Well, it's Mark's money."

That statement was clearly a demonstration of how politicians treat tax dollars under their control, not in any way acknowledging their duty to the public to make spending decisions that do not include wasteful or unneeded expenditures.

For one example of changes sought, Sup. Ridley-Thomas wanted to replace the oak wood panelling with CHERRY wood. There was going to be a lot of detail work (expensive hand work) since this was some pretty fancy and extensive work that was planned. There was nothing wrong with the existing wood.

Even a kitchenette was to be included on account of the cafeteria only open to 2 p.m. There's more but you get the idea. This choice for Supervisor, replacing Yvonne Braithwaite Burke last year, is as intense as Mayor Villaraigosa in his demonstrations of self-aggrandizement.

The other less obvious impact of such deals is that you have to consider that throwing work to be done over to the "friends" of some sort or another who will make some profit on the task is usually another way to reward supporters and make people beholden to the big spender for future dealings. So you get the job done and you get some expectation of "something for something" by choosing who gets the work, always beneficial for one spending- and doubly good when you consider it's not their money in the first place that gets them such status.

What's to come?
You can see that the task is still in Ridley-Thomas' mind, and he is expected to do the same work with small, less noticeable chunks of money applied so as not to draw attention to his use or abuse of tax dollars
. When you consider it's supposed to be a case of someone elected to serve the public here, it doesn't quite work out that way.
You have what might be seen as the adult equivalent of a kid loose in a candy store. In this case, he tried to grab it all in one visit and was easily caught in the act. The other Supervisors were caught, too. By letting Ridley-Thomas move ahead on this, they were as wrong as he was in their responsibility to the public.

Trust is not any part of the deal with any politician, shown so simply here to add to all the other examples of State and local people who were caught treating themselves very well. And you know that there's still more who haven't been caught.

The other Supervisors SHOULD have handled this request correctly by rejecting it when it was made. INSTEAD they approved it because this was another "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" set of rules. You know that Supervisors Gloria Molina, Don Knabe, Mike Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky don't want anyone butting into their business when they decide to spend money, wisely done or not, so they really were not comfortable today in re-doing the consideraton but they were stuck with all the attention that it got.

You can bet Ridley-Thomas was not happy in having this happen, especially since he, like many politicians, have cultivated some serious arrogance. And they don't want to anger him so he makes trouble later- that's why they usually let each other have their way- it keeps things moving quietly along for everyone.

So we will have to keep an eye on the situation to see when and how he makes his move, and all this will do in the end is make for more concealment in manuevers by the offenders at the expense of dealings that put citizens second in importance to the politician and their deals.

ANOTHER SMALL FACT in Government operations:
(Did you know that the matter is being handled by an appointee who makes $310,000 a year and not many know this name? It's William Fujioka who is the CEO of Los Angeles County. He was to be the person to review the work needed, in a sort of legitimization effort here. )

L.A. TIMES: [Updated 2:20 p.m.: Ridley-Thomas also said he has ordered an "independent review" to "re-scope and re-evaluate the proposed project."

"We’re reassessing the appraisal, the cost, the scope of what needs to be done," he said. ]

So the arrogance turns into what? whining? You can see he still has his eye on the prize, but he's no hero, not by any means.

And what could that be? It's an even LESSER know fact is that EACH of the Supervisors, each year, get several MILLION dollars in "discretionary funds," that they apply from their account as they see fit.

This bears some remarkable resemblance to a slush fund. From Wikipedia,
in short,

Slush fund is a colloquial term which has come to mean an auxiliary monetary account or a reserve fund. However, the term has special meaning within a context of corrupt (including but not limited to) political dealings by governments, large corporations or other bodies and individuals.

There is a little more on this term at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slush_fund

Maybe a LITTLE in such an account could be reasonable, but this is the highest level in the country for any sort of "discretionary funds." Is it any wonder that the people in power actually have a reason to FEEL that power? And that is where notions of accountability begin to fade. Consider the Wikipedia brief discussion on that link and see the dangers created to the fair operation of any "systems."