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Wilson Appointee Resigns Amid Criticism : Government: Secretary of business, transportation and housing says the governor did not ask him to leave. Critics claim Carl Covitz has taken advantage of his post.

December 17, 1992|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Carl Covitz, whose grandiose style of management offended high officials and some legislators, submitted his resignation Wednesday as Gov. Pete Wilson's secretary of business, transportation and housing.

Administration sources stressed that in spite of a two-year-long series of embarrassments caused by Covitz, a millionaire Beverly Hills real estate developer, his resignation was not sought by Wilson.

"This is a voluntary departure," said a Covitz assistant, who asked not to be identified. He said Covitz believed that leaving midway in Wilson's term is "the appropriate time for people who are thinking about making a change."

Other sources said no one had been selected to succeed Covitz in a post that traditionally has been a governor's No. 1 advocate for business, housing and the state's vast transportation system. The job pays $101,340 a year.

Wilson praised Covitz and accepted the resignation with "great regret." In a letter to Covitz, Wilson credited him with compiling a "solid record of achievement."

Covitz said he intends to resume his personal business activities. He told Wilson that he believes he has been "helpful in securing significant increases" in federal transportation funds for California.

Covitz, in an interview, said his experience in state government was "not always pleasant" but that the charges hurled at him had "zero impact" on his decision to leave. He said the allegations lodged against him included "rumor, innuendo, distortion and exaggeration."

But he added: "People have to be prepared to accept that kind of thing."

Virtually since he took office, Covitz, a former Housing and Urban Development Department official in the Reagan Administration, has stirred controversy, ranging from questionable use of Highway Patrol vehicles to acquiring new business offices for himself.

In October, Covitz told a legislative committee that he often made personal calls to his business partner on state government telephone lines but denied he still ran the business as a government employee. He said he repaid the state for $763.17 worth of telephone charges.

However, Assemblywoman Jackie Speier (D-Burlingame), chairwoman of the Assembly Oversight Committee, asked Atty. Gen. Daniel Lungren, a Republican, for a further investigation into whether Covitz misused his office.

A Lungren spokesman said Wednesday that Speier's request is being reviewed as a preliminary step in deciding whether a full investigation will be started.

Dan Schnur, Wilson communications director, said that Covitz "volunteered his resignation. We reluctantly accepted it." Schnur termed it "unfortunate that politically motivated charges besmirched (Covitz's) excellent record."

Told of the resignation, Speier said she believed that "his management style was incompatible with public service. It serves the governor and the people of the state to have Mr. Covitz step aside."

Another key legislator, Sen. Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and a longtime critic of Covitz on transit issues, also welcomed Covitz's departure.

"The handwriting has been on the wall," Kopp said. "Wilson had to dump him. He's embarrassed Wilson personally by his expense account reimbursements and utilizing the CHP for personal purposes. He knows nothing of transportation and has done nothing for two years."

Covitz, who recruited CHP officers as his personal drivers, recently stunned Wilson Administration officials by moving into a new high-rise office in Sacramento at a time when such showiness was discouraged during tough economic times and budget cuts.

Covitz kicked off controversy early in his tenure when members of his family and a friend accompanied him on a helicopter inspection of traffic congestion in Los Angeles. Several sources said the Covitz party displaced copter crew members, a claim denied by Covitz.

Shortly after a major traffic crash near Coalinga in 1990, Covitz ordered himself flown to the site from Los Angeles in a CHP helicopter. The usually quick flight took several hours and a costly refueling stop because of heavy winds.

Likewise, he drew criticism from officers of the Highway Patrol, who complained that he distracted them from their work when he would drive up to a roadside accident with a red light flashing in his state sedan. At one point, he was advised by a CHP official to wear a bulletproof vest if he persisted in showing up during potentially dangerous situations.

For his part, Covitz said that as the civilian official in charge of the Highway Patrol, he was seeking a better understanding of the problems and dangers faced by CHP officers.

Times staff writer Daniel M. Weintraub contributed to this report.

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