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Housing Authority Chief to Step Down at Mayor's Request

UPDATE [12/12/11]: Mayor has announced his pick for the new interim CEO at the housing authority. More here.

UPDATE [8:20 p.m.] - Simmons told housing authority commissioners that he intends to return to his old post as No. 2, the chief operating officer, the same position in which he signed all the checks under the former CEO. His salary in that post was more than $300,000 in 2009. The decision on whether to allow him to remain in that role will rest with the new CEO, once commissioners have hired one.

SoCal Connected has obtained copies of Simmons' e-mail to commissioners (here) and a letter from the mayor to Simmons accepting his resignation (here).

6:49 p.m. - KCET's SoCal Connected® has learned that Ken Simmons, the interim head of the city's housing authority, is resigning at the Mayor's request, according to the mayor's office.

The announcement from the deputy mayor's chief of staff, Matt Szabo, came after revelations that executives there had approved hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable expenses and a pricey severance package for fired former chief Rudolf "Rudy" Montiel.

Simmons, the authority's chief operating officer, had been serving as the acting CEO since March, and his resignation marks the second changeover in leadership this year for the Los Angeles Housing Authority, the agency charged with housing the city's poorest residents.

In March multiple media reports, including a SoCal Connected investigation, revealed top officials in the authority had been running up questionable charges at taxpayer expense. Two commissioners and then-CEO Montiel were ousted in response.

But a seven-month follow-up investigation by SoCal Connected revealed that the spending went much deeper than was initially reported. SoCal Connected analyzed thousands of pages of credit card statements, receipts and other documents, which showed that executives and their assistants had spent thousands on fine dining, travel and gifts. (Database: view the receipts for yourself).

Last weekend the Los Angeles Times reported the housing authority, under Simmons' leadership, had agreed to a severance package worth $1.2 million for Montiel, sparking outrage and demands for top-to-bottom audits of the authority.

A representative of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is on a business trip in China, told the Times that he was not aware of the settlement, but two separate city officials today told SoCal Connected that wasn't the case.

"The mayor was absolutely aware and authorized the settlement in this matter," said the mayor's deputy chief of staff, Matt Szabo. "Although he may not have been briefed on every detail of the settlement, he certainly authorized and encouraged the chairman of the board to move forward with the settlement so that the agency could end an unfortunate chapter and move forward."

TEXT OF SIMMONS' LETTER TO COMMISSIONERS:

In accepting the Interim CEO position last March I never thought that as part of this position I would be required to address so many issues relating to the past President and CEO. My interest was solely to keep the agency moving forward and to better work with our many residents and clients. I believe that I have made significant improvements in the agency's relationships with these communities as well as our sister agencies. I look forward to continuing this work. However I did not realize that these many issues would dominate so much of my time and energy and believe I could best serve the agency in my former capacity. I would ask that the Board take immediate action to appoint another Interim CEO.

VILLARAIGOSA'S LETTER ACCEPTING SIMMONS' RESIGNATION AS CEO:

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Mr. Frank, Do an investigation into employees who were put on Aministrative Leave, with pay, over the years. Probably are still some on this leave. Free money for doing nothing because HACLA, HR dragging their feet.

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