Sweetheart Deal? | Offbeat | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Sweetheart Deal? 

Wednesday, Jan 20 1999
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Photo by Anne Fishbein

By now, LAPD Inspector General Katherine Mader’s resignation under fire — and her replacement hours later by former Police Commission President Deirdre Hill — is old news. What most people don’t know is that the same Police Commission that substituted a cautious insider for determined reformer Mader also made sure that Hill would be brought in at an inflated salary.

The police panel went quietly to the City Administrative Officer and won approval to bounce her to the top step of the pay scale, $102,855 a year, according to a December 22 city memo obtained by the Weekly. That’s $20,000 more than the entry-level salary. The request cited Hill’s experience as president and vice president of the panel from 1993 to 1996, and the fact that she is an attorney in private practice, as justification for the top pay. "Her current annual salary is in excess of $100,000," the memo says.

Hill is praised by many as bright and capable, but some at City Hall think the commission exaggerated her credentials. They question whether a business attorney has the investigative and prosecutorial chops to rein in the notoriously resistant LAPD.

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Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, who chairs the Personnel Committee, opposes the pay hike. She says it has nothing to do with Hill in particular — she just believes that no one should start at the top. Goldberg tangled with the police panel just six months ago after they hired commission Executive Director Joe Gunn at $115,000 a year when city code set his salary at $92,000. "You change things through a process," says Goldberg, "You don’t corrupt the system."

A CAO official says that it’s not unusual to bounce new city employees up a few pay steps to match private-sector salaries. And that’s the real problem. When sweetheart deals for political insiders are business as usual, political reform becomes an idle fancy. Not to mention actual change at the LAPD.

—Bobbi Murray

Suited Up

Accused industrial polluter Rocketdyne has ducked several legal bullets, but its problems aren’t over yet. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco last month green-lighted a federal class-action lawsuit against the corporation’s parent company, Boeing. The suit charges Rocketdyne with leaks and releases of radioactive and carcinogenic chemicals from its missile-testing site in the mountains between the San Fernando and Simi valleys from 1949 to the present. Absent a U.S. Supreme Court reversal, 150 plaintiffs will have a chance to prove that they and other residents were poisoned by muck seeping into their air and water.

The appeals-court decision contrasts with Superior Court Judge Valerie Baker’s gutting of two separate state lawsuits over Rocketdyne pollution. Weighing a stack of old newspaper articles, Baker held that residents had been on notice about runoff from Rocketdyne’s 2,668-acre site and should have filed suit earlier. Edward Masry, plaintiffs’ lawyer in the state lawsuits, predicted that Baker’s decision will be reversed. "Rocketdyne has repeatedly denied any contamination was oozing off-site, so how would the claimants know that unless someone would, for once, be truthful about the goo contaminating the community?" says Masry. "You would think with all these lawsuits, the company would stop dragging its feet with regard to cleaning up the site properly," says Joe Lyou of Bridge the Gap, an environmental-watchdog group overseeing the Rocketdyne cleanup. "If anything, Rocketdyne has become less cooperative now that it is facing these court battles."

—Michael Collins

Homeless Hype?

The Big Issue has switched to free circulation, but The Big Question about the year-old, European-run L.A. homeless newspaper hasn’t changed: Is it cutting into the local competition, while paying street people only chump change? "We’re still competing, even though they say we’re not in competition with them anymore," says Jennafer Waggoner, editor of the homegrown homeless paper Making Change.

The first edition of The Big Issue, a glossy bimonthly supported solely by advertisers, including Levi’s and the Body Shop, hit L.A. streets in December. Homeless men and women are paid $8 an hour to deliver the paper to free distribution points throughout the city. Previously, homeless vendors kept 60 cents of each $1 street-corner sale. "I don’t see poor people being served," a shocked Tim Harris, chairman of the North American Street Newspapers Association, told the Weekly. "The world doesn’t need another entertainment-journalist magazine."

The Big Issue has raised hackles since its January 1998 L.A. launch by British co-founder A. John Bird. Unlike the predominantly homeless-written and -distributed Making Change, most of The Big Issue consists of professionally written entertainment features. Waggoner says its competitor reneged on promises to help the smaller paper. Bird says he tried to help, but Making Change’s requests kept growing. Last year, a subcommittee on competition at the North American Street Newspapers Association requested that The Big Issue’s membership be deferred, pending an investigation. (Bird bowed out before the membership vote, though NASNA members appeared to be leaning in his favor.) Harris dismisses the new, free Big Issue as "liberal entrepreneurialism at its best." A Making Change writer denounces the "capitalistic overtones."

"I assure you I am here for the benefit of homeless people," counters Bird. "I’m giving them a job." According to the L.A. Coalition To End Hunger and Homelessness, over 50,000 people in Los Angeles County are homeless on any given night; five are working for Bird.

—Aaron M. Fontana

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