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Audit slams 'shoddy' oversight of L.A. community college projects

August 10, 2011 | 11:56 am

 

A state audit released Wednesday questioned more than $140 million in construction spending by the Los Angeles Community College District, including $28.3 million sunk into campus projects that were later canceled because of poor planning.

The district spent construction funds on promotional photography, public relations tours and other impermissible activities, put millions into building projects not on its approved list and generally exercised weak oversight of its $5.7-billion construction program, state Controller John Chiang’s office found. Many of the audit’s findings mirrored those of a Los Angeles Times series published earlier this year.

“Local voters raised their property taxes for a major investment in workforce development and higher education,” Chiang said in a news release. “Shoddy fiscal management and subpar oversight of a project of this magnitude will undermine the public’s trust and threaten billions of public dollars.”

Times Investigation: How L.A. Community College project went astray

In a response distributed with the audit, the district disputed Chiang's findings, saying officials had taken care “to manage the bond funds diligently and thoughtfully.”

Responding to the criticism that funds were spent on unauthorized projects, the district said the list of voter-sanctioned projects allowed “flexibility to respond to the inevitable changes in economic, market and educational requirements."

The audit also found that an inspector general hired by the district to police the program had no experience in audits or investigation, and that there was no evidence that citizens’ oversight committees created by the district had challenged any of the questionable spending.

The committees "were passive, perfunctory and ineffective," Chiang said. The main committee, which was required to issue reports to the public annually, "failed to issue any report for seven years," the controller said, and its 2010 report "was found to be virtually meaningless."

The construction program is financed by three bond measures voters approved in 2001, 2003 and 2008.  A median household pays $123 a year in increased taxes to repay the debt, Chiang said. The district so far has spent $2.75 billion of its $5.7-billion bond fund.

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-- Gale Holland and Michael Finnegan

Photo: Larry Eisenberg, head of the construction program, right, at a meeting. In an April 2009 email, he told his construction chief that quality control was "horrible," adding: "We are opening buildings that do not work at the most fundamental level." Credit: Christina House / For The Times

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