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L.A. County supervisors approve guidelines on discretionary funds, drop proposal for greater public oversight

April 5, 2011 |  9:32 pm

A provision for greater public oversight of Los Angeles County supervisors' discretionary funds was quietly dropped from policy guidelines adopted by the board Tuesday to govern some of the millions of taxpayer dollars they spend without a vote or public discussion.

Draft rules outlined by County Counsel Andrea Sheridan Ordin in a March 8 letter included the recommendation that any grant to a social program for more than $1,000 appear on the Board of Supervisors' public agenda. But that provision was not in the policy approved by three of the board's five members Tuesday: Gloria Molina, Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas. Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky did not vote because they were out of the country.

Each supervisor is allocated more than $3 million a year to spend at his or her discretion, a practice that became the subject of a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court after The Times last year outlined how some of the funds are used. Supervisors have used the money to pay for drivers, hold parties for friends and lobbyists, and make donations to pet projects, among other expenditures.

Ordin said her office does not believe the lawsuit has merit and had recommended that the board provide a statement on the standards they use to fund outside groups, which had not previously been formalized. Such donations fund programs that help provide for the health, welfare, education and other needs of county residents, she wrote in her recommendations to the board.

The board postponed voting on the policy four times. During that time, Ordin said her office decided to drop recommendations about how grant applications are handled in order to speed up approval of the criteria to receive funding.

"The thought was 'let's get this part done,' " she said. But she added there would be further discussion of whether to require board approval for grants over a certain amount.

Ordin declined to discuss any objections raised by the supervisors, who discussed her proposals in closed session. A spokeswoman for Molina said she had been instructed not to comment on the matter because of the pending litigation; none of the other four supervisors responded to requests for comment.

An investigation by the Los Angeles County district attorney's Public Integrity Division last year  concluded that the board's discretionary spending did not violate any laws.


L.A. County supervisors spend millions on pet projects

-- Alexandra Zavis