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Audit finds L.A. County supervisors' behind-the-scenes effort to control policy

Bruce McClendonA long awaited audit released by Los Angeles County officials found that the Board of Supervisors often use behind-the-scenes levers to control the inner workings of the Regional Planning Department, whose decisions are key to hotly contested battles over development, environmental protections and code enforcement.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s planning deputy, Ben Saltsman, and Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s planning deputy, Paul Novak, fought vigorously behind the scenes during the development of a Green Building ordinance, issuing e-mails to department staffers that “could be interpreted as violating” county rules against supervisors’ directives outside the public meeting process, according to the report, which was obtained by The Times.

Supervisor Gloria Molina’s planning deputy, Nicole Englund, hand-picked department staffers to go to professional conferences in Las Vegas and San Francisco despite former Director Bruce McClendon’s claim that he told her that they were not qualified to go with all expenses paid and that their attendance would amount to a “junket." In addition, investigators determined that Englund had ordered the department to fund the trips with federal anti-poverty money despite program rules that “could lead to the conclusion that travel and training are ineligible expenses,” the report said.

And former Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke’s planning deputy, Mike Bohlke, pressured department staffers to increase their recommended cap for the number of wells eligible for drilling in the Inglewood oil fields before it reached the supervisors for a vote in public. When the staffers suggested more community input first, he wrote “Enough is Enough … !!!!!” in an e-mail to top department officials, the report said.

The audit was initiated after the firing of McClendon as regional planning director in January 2009. McClendon had received a positive job evaluation several months before, and said he was fired for blowing the whistle of the supervisors’ activities to Chief Executive William T. Fujioka and for enforcing rules against supervisor’s intrusions behind the scenes.

Though the report suggests that the supervisors play a hands-on role in the department, the majority of McClendon’s allegations were neither substantiated nor refuted. Auditors noted that “many of Mr. McClendon’s allegations involve one-on-one conversations over the phone or in person. There were no recordings of these conversations and therefore little or no evidence to support or refute his claims in these instances.”

The audit was carried out under the oversight of Auditor Controller Wendy Watanabe, who reports directly to the supervisors. Her investigators conducted initial interviews with McClendon before contracting out the investigation to Harvey M. Rose Associates to ensure impartiality. More details on the report will be published in Saturday's paper.

County officials initially declined to release the audit, but after extensive conversations with The Times, the report was released late Thursday.

--Garrett Therolf at the L.A. County Hall of Administration

Photo: McClendon. Barbara Davidson / L.A. Times

Comments () | Archives (26)


Los Angeles County,about time someone speak out how the L.A. County is.

I hope this study was not particularly costly nor did it take very long. All you have to know is that Board of Supervisors apparently have "Planning Deputy's". County governments by their very organization and nature are inherently corrupt and defy change from what they are without major reductions of power from the five little fiefdoms.

how about sending me to vegas. all expenses paid. on the poverty dime.

These supervisors have literally gotten fat in their positions in the county. County citizens need to break up this little fiefdom with a referendum. There is so much they do outside the view of the voters and it needs to stop.

Then vote them all out!!! They are all corrupt and do not represent the people of Los Angeles. Whoever your representative is, VOTE THEM OUT!!!

Power grab and not accountable to the people who put them in office. We should vote everybody out of office and that may help solve the budget crisis.

I can't belive I just read this sentence:

"The audit was carried out under the oversight of Auditor Controller Wendy Watanabe, who reports directly to the supervisors."

I'm just a layman, but shouldn't the auditors be more independent? Isn't this a huge conflict of interest?

Isn't first-person testimony considered evidence?

The report is not a claim for wrongful termination, in which case McClendon might need additional evidence to substantiate his statements.

Instead, the report addresses the activities of members of the Board, in which case his statements would seem wholly admissible as evidence, no?

It is worth noting that the audit was conducted "...under the oversight of Auditor Controller Wendy Watanabe, who reports directly to the supervisors." Obviously, there is a conflict of interest here.

It will be interesting to see what Harvey Rose & Associates has to say.

Nothing will change. The Auditors are merely covering up
for the Supervisors. That makes everything look good to the Public. Yes, fooled once again by "Our Government" and their so called "Auditors". They'll keep taking and making deals until there is no more Tax money left in the Treasury. I have a propasal: Lower our property tax, and sales tax, until we actually get results and then (and only then) can you have our money. The biggest Ponzi scheme will soon run out of money. Let the party (Tea Party) begin.

This would explain why there is still unnecessary development in already congested areas. I'm sure NO ONE will be prosecuted. The people who run L.A. are become more and more scandalous every day while the people of L.A. are getting ANGRIER.

Someone posted a great quote from Thomas Jefferson the other day-- "When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny."

Chedo said, "These supervisors have literally gotten fat in their positions in the county. County citizens need to break up this little fiefdom with a referendum. There is so much they do outside the view of the voters and it needs to stop." Chedo is right.

I hope the L.A. Times does some overdue investigating. The Board of Supervisors had had virtually no oversight of their actions. I think issues with the Planning Commission are the tip of an iceberg.

OMG are you kidding me with this story? Talk about pointing out the obvious. How about an in-depth 25 year review on the relationship between Newhall Land & Farm Company and Supervisor Mike Antonovich, a relationship so obviously skewed for the company interests that it has ultimately resulted in the disaster that is the Santa Clarita Valley?

That's what happens when you stay in office too long. These people feel they own everything.

Robert No Longer in LA:

They tell lies, and get out of it.

Another audit conducted and more illegal activity uncovered but yet no punishment. Why is there no accountability for politicians? No public outcry?

The average citizen is held accountable when they break rules. Why do we allow these injustices to continue?

Michael Antonovich, his Planning Deputy Paul Novak, and other staff of Supervisor Antonovich have collaborated with Joe Edmiston of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to put bogus zoning violation notices on private landowners next to the Antonovich Regional Park. Mr. Antonovich clearly wants to use the powers of his position to impair the value of land nearby in order to force the owners to sell their land to the Conservancy for next to nothing. If there is a criminal investigation, let's look into how the powers of the County code enforcement team have been employed by Antonovich's office to screw over landowners in the canyons of the Santa Susanna Mountains north of the 118 freeway.

And the Supervisors did not want to release this report? Imagine that! These little despots are shameful and corrupt in their behavior. Voter backlash against incumbents continues to grow.

LA Times investigative reporters, please look into the backgrounds of each of the Supervisors' deputies and see how few of these power wielding deputies are actually qualified to be advising the Board. As you may know, Dr Splawn has submitted his resignation from the Department of Health Services. Rumor has it that it was due the strong-arm tactics used by the Board's deputies. Anyone working in the County knows that when the Board calls, all your policies and procedures go up in smoke and you do what they want.

wow maybe this guy should've gotten to know the board of supervisors (his bosses) than worrying about staff. sounds like a grudge...........

Monkeyboy, who should the Auditor report to?

HMM, you live in a huge city. Stop complaining about traffic. Don't like the traffic? Move to Inyokern.

Is this really a revelation?

Mike Bohlke should be investigated. The Inglewood Oil Field has pulled dirty stunts all along and they have been able to get away with an incredible amount of drilling and re-drilling in an oil field that is now unstable land and has caused all kind of environmental problems for the neighborhoods.

The oil field operations have caused large cracks in walls of homes nearby as well as massive cracks in streets. The residents were protesting the drilling and spent a lot of time and other resources to try to stop the 1000 proposed new well undertaking planned by the Inglewood oil field.

It is outrageous to now hear that Mike Bohlke tried to prevent staff from getting more input from the community and it is infuriating to say the least. Mike Bohlke should be placed under the microscope to see if anyone made him and offer he could not refuse to prevent the community from fighting for their homes and their health!

As a resident who lives near the Baldwin Hills Oil field and followed the process to regulate the Houston based, PXP’s oil field operations, I am not surprised to know that Yvonne Burke’s deputy, Mike Bohlke was advocating on behalf of PXP oil company. A much deeper, OUTSIDE investigation should be done to find out WHY Bohlke manipulated the process to help PXP instead of ensuring meaningful regulation and oversight. The CSD that was passed is invalid and forever tainted in the eyes of the community. Therefore, it is not unreasonable for citizens to demand another moratorium on drilling, a new environmental impact report with full disclosure and REAL public oversight and input. The community never had a chance. It's time to turn this around.

A truly independent investigation is needed to look into this further and I hope one is pursued. The example of the Baldwin Hills Oil Field impacts all of us and shouldn't be ignored. It’s a crime when you think of the impact of a potentially dangerous oil operation using billions of gallons of our water per day vs. what we were originally promised - a world class State Park. Revenue to the county from a park and investment in green energy (e.g. solar municipal power plant) could potentially bring in how much as compared to the oil operation and its risks and lowered property values, etc.? Why was this not looked into? Yvonne Burke couldn’t think inside the box, much less outside the box. Add to that heavy influence with PXP dollars and the community is left to pay a very heavy price.

Everybody needs to wake up and see that PXP had a deeper influence on the decision we were suspect of.  As we all know, Yvonne Burke and her sidekick Mike Bohlke screwed the communities surrounding the oil fields by rushing to a decision before all the agencies had an opportunity  to comment. We all deserve to get a proper study done on the field itself and not just on a "what if" set of numbers PXP came up with.  McClendon finally had the guts to speak up and say enough is enough. We need to get an independent investigation done even with the hand picking of the members by Bohlke that were designed to inform the community of the dangers involved in the expansion of an oil field on the Newport Inglewood Fault.  If there is any doubt that improper actions were taken, then the potential danger could cost us  much much more than the 1 million PXP paid for the study. Just a fact:
Every drop of crude taken out of our ground has to be replaced with water over and over again as it dissipates into the ground from now to eternity.  Is this something we can afford to do?

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