John Tuite, the embattled administrator of the Community Redevelopment Agency, says he was willing to work the remaining two years of his current contract, but the CRA board bought him out. The severance package includes salary, back pay, pension and other benefits. It totaled more than $765,000 in public funds. Tuite is legally entitled to the money, but this extraordinary buyout at taxpayers' expense doesn't exactly inspire public confidence--and it raises many troubling questions.
Why is Tuite leaving? He came to the CRA with expertise in housing and with a reputation for integrity. In Los Angeles, Tuite confronted increasingly contentious politics and hostilities as the mayor, the City Council and social service advocates battled for a bigger say in how the redevelopment money would be spent.
And now the CRA decision to pay off Tuite has prompted the City Council to try and seize control of the powerful agency from the hands of Mayor Tom Bradley and his appointed commissioners. But would such a move provide the checks and balances sorely missing here, or just substitute one type of back-room politics for another set of pre-cut deals?
Some critics say Tuite was pressured to resign because the CRA continued to promote commercial development over affordable housing, and because the agency had to be pressured by the council and homeless advocates to focus more on housing.
Yet during Tuite's 4 1/2-year tenure, the CRA produced nearly 6,800 units of low- and moderate-income housing. If the mayor wanted more, he should have directed his appointees on the overseeing CRA board to push for it.
Was Tuite's removal necessary at any cost? The CRA board decided that the agency should not be run by a lame duck. The mayor's office agreed. Lame ducks can lose a certain authority, but was that threat so onerous that it warranted a payoff of an unprecedented sum during a time of local fiscal crisis?
The money used for Tuite's package represents a fraction of the CRA's proposed $278.2 million- budget. Those dollars could not have been used to pay for more cops or trim trees. But the money certainly could have been better spent. Say, on more beds in a homeless shelter.
Tuite's generous contract was a matter of public record. He negotiated the deal four years ago in light of the city's recent history of forcing out general managers. Mayor Bradley and Jim Wood, the powerful president of the CRA board, have ruled out a similar deal for the next administrator. But what independent and forceful leader will want the job given the fact that Tuite--and his predecessor, Ed Helfeld--were both forced out?
Redevelopment is a powerful issue that creates conflict. The CRA needs a strong leader with vision who can work to alleviate blight, but without getting mired in a political swamp over every decision. Before there is a new CRA administrator, the mayor, the CRA and all those council members who think they can do a better job have lots of questions to answer.