First clue that Robert “Bud” Ovrom is unfit to hold a six-figure seat at the head of the massive L.A. Building and Safety Department? He doesn't even know how to send an email.
We've often wondered how a man can climb the political ladder with such ease, yet somehow never perfect the art of keeping sketchy government correspondence private. It was one thing for L.A. City Council candidate Jose Huizar's campaign consultant to send a sadistic terror scare of a motivational memo to 28 election insiders in February. But the Building and Safety general manager's big springtime “oops” is much more far-reaching, stinking up the inboxes of hundreds of city employees with a message very clearly only meant for the eyes of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The Los Angeles Times hasn't posted the nine-page embarrassment in full (City Hall reporter David Zahniser is probably saving some juicy bits for roll-out), but we've seen enough to deduce that Ovrom knows more about the FBI probe into allegations of bribery within his department than he's been letting on.
So far, two Building and Safety field inspectors have admitted to accepting bribes for construction approvals. Reports the Times today:
The inspectors who pleaded guilty, Raoul Germain and Hugo Gonzalez, were assigned to territory in South Los Angeles. Two others were placed on administrative leave as a result of the city's investigation, according to Ovrom's memo: Frank Rojas, a plan check engineer in the department's West Los Angeles office, and Samuel In, a code enforcement officer in the agency's Koreatown office.
In, who worked for the city for 37 years, filed for retirement May 6, two days after he was placed on leave, Ovrom informed the mayor. The department planned to keep secret the reasons In was placed on leave, the memo said. “As far as we are concerned, he has retired and that is all we will ever tell the media,” Ovrom told Villaraigosa.
Ovrom also blames the corruption among supervisors on a wave of early retirees, as “the department was 'not always providing adequate training' to their replacements.'”
That, for one, is bullshit. A culture of corruption of this magnitude takes years to fester, and any new managers who were promoted had to have risen within the department step-by-step.
Ovrom's memo also acknowledges that the FBI has been investigating Building and Safety “wide and high” since last August. However, when the scandal first broke to the public this May, Ovrom was quick to claim that he had launched his own investigation in February, long before the feds stepped in. The Associated Press reported in April:
The Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, which employs the two men, said it began its own preliminary investigation of 53 department projects handled by the men in February. It said it put them on administrative leave and referred the case to the City Attorney's Office, all before it learned of the FBI investigation.
“We appreciate the involvement of the FBI, but we were already far down the road on this investigation before we learned of the FBI's involvement,” the department's general manager, Bud Ovrom, said in a statement.
Now, no matter how Ovrom may try to backpedal, we know he's coming at this scandal from a place of secrecy and lies.
In the May 10 memo, he complains to Villaraigosa that the FBI probe has caused him to be “unsuccessful at staying in front of this story.” (We also know that Villaraigosa has since made no attempt to notify taxpayers of Ovrom's deceit. But that's unsurprising.)
It's still hard to tell whether Ovrom himself played a part in cultivating the department's culture, per se. Even a digital dinosaur like this guy knows that revealing full knowledge of illegal bribes to the Big Boss would be shooting himself in the foot. But given Ovrom's apparent interest in covering the tracks of his friends — and his general obfuscating in response to the FBI probe — we can't help but wonder if the department head may have gotten his hands dirty as well.
Then again, he could just be a small-town businessman in an awkward construction hat, incapable of cleaning up the mess that former General Manager Andrew Adelman left behind in 2009, when he was quietly terminated for allegedly raping an unconscious woman with various sex toys.
And Adelman was an institutional skeeze as well as a bedroom one, wrote LA Weekly news editor Jill Stewart:
Adelman, as head of Building and Safety, allowed the massive proliferation of illegal billboards in Los Angeles, claiming he didn't have the money to employ inspectors — a bizarre claim in a department of 1,000 workers that blows through $120 million yearly.
As we reported, the billboard companies found Adelman's department so laughable that one Thanksgiving week a company erected a huge, illegal, (nobody knows if it will withstand an earthquake) billboard — in direct view of the downtown Building and Safety office where Adelman's “inspectors” work.
Sounds like looking the other way might have been in the best interest of department heads during L.A.'s rampant billboard epidemic, financially or otherwise. So it should come as no surprise to Ovrom, or anybody else, that Building and Safety's bigtime affinity for bribes has spread, like a disease, to its smaller arteries.
That the department's new manager is so vehemently in denial, and paranoid about maintaining a false front for the media, doesn't do much to quell our suspicions that he's either Adelman 2.0 or too stupid/scared to see what's right in front of him.