The reporters and producers at SoCal Connected, a weekly investigatory segment on local TV station KCET, have achieved the impossible.
Their ongoing expose of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) — based on documents that even L.A.'s own City Controller and District Attorney couldn't get their hands on — have turned an over-entitled public agency that blew through hundreds of thousands in perks into a cowering puppy in the headlights.
Now that the infuriating shopping sprees have (hopefully) come to a halt, the scramble to save face is borderline hilarious.
In its latest update on the HACLA scandal, KCET reveals that Ken Simmons, longtime HACLA exec who took over for Rudy “$400 lunches” Montiel when he was fired in March, recently issued a hasty memo to his staff.
Simmons “told employees that due to budget constraints they would have to give up all staff events and accept other limitations on spending,” reports KCET.
One priceless excerpt:
“The media stories leave out the fact that this agency has made incredible accomplishments in the last six years and continue to maintain its high performer rating by [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development], thanks to your hard work; these served as the main reason for the employee event [sic].”
As if doing the job for which taxpayers are (quite heavily) compensating you is an excuse to waste hundreds of thousands more on travel, extravagant steak dinners and freaking $500 pink elephants. (For more nauseating details on HACLA's credit-card habits, see our first post on the spending reports. You can also dig through KCET's groovy interactive database.)
Simmons insists the memo was not in reaction to media pressure. But according to KCET, he sent the email yesterday morning — right in the heat of a followup Los Angeles Times report that Montiel, former CEO of HACLA, had been paid an additional $1.2 million after his shameful departure.
The memo makes excuses for that little debacle, too:
Because Montiel had filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against HACLA, battling it out in court would be too risky for the agency, Simmons wrote. Instead, the agency had reached a settlement of $645,000, more than half of which would be “covered by Insurance [sic] and the rest of the agency.”
The only reason that lawsuit would have been “risky” to fight, of course, is because Montiel had called out the authority's Board of Commissioners for its own extravagant spending. So essentially, HACLA is just shelling out hundreds of thousands more in taxpayer dollars to lock all skeletons in the closet for good.
That's on top of almost $13 million in additional whistleblower lawsuits HACLA fought in the years leading up to Montiel's ousting, KCET producer Karen Foshay reminded us earlier this week.
So, uh — good try, Simmons. But this one's not going away anytime soon. Not as long as Foshay, Erickson and the team are alive and digging.