By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
It sounds nice, at least if you agree taxpayers should subsidize those groups. But Zine also sent $5,000 to the Valley Cultural Center, much of it earmarked for the annual July 4 Dennis P. Zine party, where 50,000 people attended “free” fireworks and concerts—and the “Z” brand got another jolt of publicity.
Huizar spent his $100,000 gift card as if he were creating support in anticipation of a run for an Eastside congressional seat — a job the largely unknown councilman is known to lust after. Huizar sent $15,000 to Arte Calidad Cultural Institute; $4,306, $3,500, $500, and $1,860 to the Barrio Action Youth & Family Center; $5,000 to the Center for Education and Immigration Services; $5,000 to the El Sereno Bicentennial Committee, and $3,780 to Roosevelt High School cheerleaders.
For Martha Cisneros, a Boyle Heights resident for nearly 50 years, it’s all of a piece. She says Huizar openly favors legal and illegal immigrants over U.S.-born Latinos like herself. “He is out of touch with a certain element of the community, the ones who speak English and the ones who were born here.”
Cardenas uses a different pot of taxpayer money, his $5,000 petty cash fund, as something of a campaign tool. More than 30 entries show Cardenas buying supplies for various events — “candles” for a “Veterans Day Vigil” or “zip ties” for a “Fill the Boot” press conference. At many, Cardenas provides fliers touting “Councilman Tony Cardenas” in impossible-to-miss typeface that at times is far larger than the event itself. When constituents want to talk about serious business, says James Cordaro, a former member of the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council, they often get the runaround. Cardaro has a nickname for Cardenas: “Phony Tony.”
Rosendahl defends the $100,000 slush funds by saying the handouts are “important for the community.” City documents show that he diverted $84,686.82 to his staff costs. “Without the staff to interact with our constituents we can’t provide services that people deserve,” he insists.
Under a little-discussed “use it or lose it” clause, several council members are diverting the money to “staff salaries” merely to park it in that category — then quietly divert it back for later use, says Mitch Englander, an aide to Grieg Smith. Englander candidly says that official fiscal year 2007-2008 documents, which show that Smith used $44,223 to pay for “staff salaries,” illustrate the hide-the-slush-fund practice: Smith moved the money to “staff salaries” for a time, but only so he wouldn’t lose it. Garcetti also transferred $12,317.29 to “staff salaries” but didn’t actually spend it. His aide Julie Wong says it’s common to do so, then move the cash back into their open-ended account — to hand out as before, or to supplement their big office budgets.
Although Englander and Wong were very upfront, some council members don’t appreciate the media shining a light on their practices, including very basic questions about their salaries and large personal staffs. Janice Hahn, viewed by some of her colleagues as poor with numbers and very slow to grasp fiscal realities, claimed not to know her budget for her staff, telling the Weekly “around $1 million” — then failed to provide a figure after promising to do so. Her press aide, Olivia Kelly, also refused to provide the cost of Hahn’s staff salaries, implying that Janice Hahn didn’t have time for irrelevant questions and referring the Weekly to the city clerk. In fact, Hahn has a personal staff of 19 to 24 people, costing taxpayers $1.32 million — ranking Hahn’s as the third most-expensive staff, after Huizar’s at $1.47 million and Weiss’ at $1.33 million.
“What exactly are they doing for us?” activist Doug Haines asks. “They can’t balance the budget, and they’re raising all of these fees.” He says it’s an “explicit no” that taxpayers are getting bang for their buck.
Five days before the remarkable Elephant Day at City Hall, council President Garcetti sits at the podium and greets the public at 10:10 a.m. It’s “Proclamation Friday” — supposedly the third of three official council meeting days each week. But Fridays in fact are lazy days where little is accomplished and some council members don’t bother to show.
This day, Garcetti lacks a quorum (he needs 10 of 15), so he kills time. But Huizar, Parks, Reyes, Smith and Wesson never show.
A city staffer rolls in a cart stacked 2 feet high — not with policy papers on solar energy, which the council still does not grasp; or studies on how to finally fund sidewalk repairs; or a way out of selling city land at the worst prices in years — but instead, elaborate, framed proclamations in honor of this or that constituent, city worker or local business. In today’s case, a proclamation goes to the Arleta High School football team for winning a championship.
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