Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley launched an independent investigation Monday into allegations of favoritism, mismanagement and misuse of confidential personnel information to discredit a "whistle blower" by the head of the city's General Services Department.
The mayor's office announced that a three-member committee has been formed to conduct the inquiry. Bradley also sought help from City Atty. James K. Hahn and Police Chief Daryl F. Gates to determine whether Sylvia Cunliffe had violated any laws as general manager of the city's fourth-largest department.
But one City Council member said enough was already known for Bradley to fire Cunliffe.
The General Services Department, with a $127-million budget, oversees city buildings, vehicles and purchases. Cunliffe, who has headed the department since it was formed in 1979, has been the target of recent criticism, including complaints that she ignored better rental offers on city-owned property in favor of her friends and relatives.
The management of her department has also been criticized in the wake of reports, first published in the Los Angeles Daily News, that two General Services executives share the same job at a salary of $68,660 each and that rents at the city-owned Los Angeles Shopping Center mall in the Civic Center were allowed to fall behind by tens of thousands of dollars.
Cunliffe has denied the allegations of favoritism and mismanagement.
But another disclosure, that Cunliffe had sought to discredit a whistle blower in her department by sending a memo containing damaging personnel information last week to City Council members, sparked the call for an investigation and preceded Bradley's announcement of an independent probe.
Named to the panel were Robert B. Dodson, a retired partner in a national accounting and management firm who will head the committee; Lilly V. Lee, a businesswoman who heads a property management company, and Frank V. Kroeger, general manager of the city's Building and Safety Department.
"This panel will investigate the range of allegations concerning the management of the General Services Department," Bradley said. "Their goal will be to get to the truth of the charges and provide factual basis for a course of action."
Bradley also said he has asked Hahn to look into whether Cunliffe had broken any laws in divulging the information to city officials or whether anyone else had violated laws in leaking the memo to the press.
However, Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, a likely mayoral challenger in 1989, criticized Bradley for not immediately suspending Cunliffe as a move toward firing her. Noting that City Administrative Officer Keith Comrie is already investigating some of the allegations against Cunliffe, he questioned whether the mayor's panel would "retard" that investigation.
Yaroslavsky also said that in light of Cunliffe's circulation of the confidential personnel information, there is ample reason for the mayor to fire her.
"You don't need a panel to tell you that her effort was to smear, slander, libel and discredit the reputation of one of the city employees that was under her command," Yaroslavsky said. "What more does he need to know?"
The memo from Cunliffe, dated June 15, outlined confidential information about Robert O'Neill, a real estate officer in her department who had made several anonymous calls to a city hot line complaining about alleged improprieties. After his identity was learned as a source of some of the allegations against her, Cunliffe sent similar memos to the mayor and City Council undermining O'Neill's credibility.
The one-page letter, marked confidential, was titled: "Criminal Record of Robert O'Neill." At one point, it said:
"Mr. O'Neill has used at least two aliases and has been arrested for assault with a deadly weapon (revolver), breaking and entering and larceny, felonious assault, tampering with a motor vehicle, breach of peace and assault in the third degree. In addition, he was institutionalized as a chronic alcoholic in the state of Connecticut."
The memo went on to describe O'Neill as a "known gambler" who has falsified property management records and who has been derelict in his work habits.
O'Neill, 45, who lives in North Hollywood and has been absent from the department with a stress disability claim, defended his work performance and said the charges about his "criminal record" stemmed from his teen years in Connecticut. He told The Times that since moving to California 20 years ago, his only infraction has been "a recent speeding ticket."
O'Neill, who added that he was a "chronic alcoholic" until joining a recovery program two decades ago, said he has been with the department since 1981 and a city employee for 14 years and that department officials were well aware of his past record.
"This is a vindictive act," O'Neill said of the Cunliffe memo. "Her desire is to discredit me."