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South L.A. activist resigns from state board after arrest

October 29, 2009 |  3:06 pm

James Tyrell Harris, the chairman of a South Los Angeles neighborhood council who is accused of misusing $85,000 in public funds, resigned this week from the board of the California Prison Industry Authority.

Harris was appointed in September by state Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) to replace Larry Frank, the Los Angeles deputy mayor for neighborhood and community services who stepped down from the post in May.

Harris has two previous felony convictions for robbery from the mid-1980s, according to the prosecutor handling his case, and was known for his work with ex-offenders in the community.

Shannon Murphy, a spokeswoman for Bass, said the speaker knew Harris through her work in South Los Angeles and appointed him because she “felt strongly that it would be appropriate for someone to serve [on the board] who had been through the system, so they would have that perspective.”

Before his arrest, Harris had worked as a coordinator of the Community Coalition, a group co-founded by Bass that focused on improving the quality of life in South Los Angeles.

Harris’ resignation from the Prison Industry Authority board, first reported today by Capitol Weekly, was requested by the speaker after Harris’ arrest in early October. He had yet to attend a meeting of the Prison Industry Authority board.

Harris was the fifth treasurer or chairman of the city’s 89 neighborhood councils to face a felony charge of misusing public funds.

The city Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, which oversees the councils, asked the Los Angeles Police Department to investigate Harris in June 2008.

In a letter to police, city officials expressed concerns about Harris’ repeated cash withdrawals and money order purchases that they said were not approved by other members of the Empowerment Congress Southwest Area Development Neighborhood Council.

Harris’ lawyer could not be reached for comment.

—Maeve Reston at City Hall