The Housing Authority Gives Nothing But Disappointment

At Jordan Downs, a project of HACLA | Photo via HACLA

This morning I spoke with one of my dearest friends, a very smart person, generally about the state of our government. The words we used to describe current events were "poisonous" and "unbelievably disappointing." At one point we agreed that much of what our public officials do is mere "theatrics."

Is this type of contempt and dismay warranted? Unfortunately this week brings yet another -- in a seemingly endless series of examples -- of a public official behaving badly.

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By now most of us know that the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA), an agency charged with serving the neediest residents of the City, has been plagued by reports (much of it via KCET's SoCal Connected) of extravagant spending and a payout for Rudy Montiel, the former CEO who was tossed out this spring, of more than $1 million. That could pay for more than a few units of low-income housing.

This week Los Angeles Controller Wendy Greuel's audit detailed that wasteful spending by the HACLA, which includes pricey meals and lavish travel expenses (SoCal Connected earlier this month published an interactive database of meal, gift and other expenditure receipts). The audit found that employees of the HACLA, on the public dime, did such things as booking expensive hotel rooms and even went as far as to fly between Los Angeles and San Diego. (Some good news, apparently HACLA employees have stopped using limousines. Time to rejoice about that enormous step forward.)

Now come the inevitable calls for more oversight and more regulation. The mayor's office has no other choice at this point. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who appoints the seven-member board that oversees HACLA, has of course welcomed more oversight. More oversight may be helpful, but too much damage has already been done.

And Controller Greuel will come out with the second part of the audit in early 2012.

So congratulations HACLA, you've made a cynical, disgusted public even more disenchanted with its government. It hardly seemed possible.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government in Los Angeles every week. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.

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