Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Housing Chief Joins Parade of Departures

May 15, 1997|JODI WILGOREN and HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Los Angeles Housing Department Chief Gary Squier announced his resignation Wednesday, the ninth of 27 appointed department heads to leave City Hall in the past six months.

Squier, one of city government's highest-profile administrators, has been on the Los Angeles payroll for a decade. His resignation came less than a week after the release of a critical audit of the earthquake loan program he oversees, and follows on the heels of the departure of his top deputy.

Along with Animal Regulation chief Gary Olsen, who quit earlier this week, Squier is the latest to say farewell in an unprecedented rash of retirements and resignations by top-ranking bureaucrats.

Some at City Hall bemoan the loss of experience; others are quietly cheering the housecleaning.

"In some cases, it's time for general managers to move on, and there will be benefits to the city in getting new blood. In other cases, it's a tremendous loss," said City Councilman Mike Feuer. "What we really have to be focusing on is training and mentoring people throughout departments to take over."

In the past several months, the walls at City Hall have been papered with fliers announcing retirement dinners, for officials including the heads of the departments of Water and Power, Harbor, and Building and Safety, as well as the city clerk, the city engineer, and two key leaders in the Department of Public Works.

At least three of the departing veterans cited the City Council's refusal to hike their salaries as among their reasons. Privately, City Hall observers attribute the string of farewells, at least in part, to the ongoing power struggles between Mayor Richard Riordan and council members, which often leave employees at the center of the storm. In addition, voters recently gave the mayor the power to hire and fire general managers at will.

"A lot of people may be leaving out of frustration and just being fed up," speculated City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas. "There is a level of frustration, coinciding in some instances with people reaching an age where they can comfortably retire, and others who just feel like, since they can't have it the way they think it ought to be, they can do other things with their lives."

Squier, a longtime activist for affordable housing who worked for former Mayor Tom Bradley before becoming the Housing Department's first general manager in 1990, said it is simply time for him to move on. He recently returned from a seven-month stint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Squier will depart his $125,155-a-year post July 1 and plans to start an investment and consulting company to launch affordable housing projects in troubled urban neighborhoods throughout California.

"I see my career in 10-year increments. The first 10 were in nonprofits, in advocacy. I've been with the city for about 10 years. Now it's time to look for that next 10-year cycle," he said in an interview Wednesday. "I've addressed it [affordable housing] from two sides. This is an opportunity to address it from the private-sector perspective."

A onetime VISTA volunteer, Squier served as Bradley's housing coordinator and head of the city's housing authority before taking the helm of the newly formed Housing Department. Since its inception, the department has financed about $1 billion in housing projects; Squier now oversees a staff of 375 and a $100-million operating budget.

In his resignation letter, Squier offered a departing message that revealed his dissatisfaction with the status quo:

"With thoughtful focus, Los Angeles can save its neighborhoods from decay, violence and despair. There is a solution," he wrote, suggesting community involvement, public and private investment, and consistent law enforcement as key elements to success. "The components exist under current budget funding levels; all that is needed is commitment to the task."

While roundly praised for his creative vision and passionate advocacy, Squier earns less praise as a manager. His department has been frequently criticized by the city controller's office, most recently in an audit of the $300-million loan program launched after the Northridge earthquake.

The audit said the program used lax loan approval methods and failed to ensure that contractors who received loans paid workers federally mandated prevailing wages. The auditors called for a full-scale review of the Housing Department's management.

"He did a fine job as far as helping to respond on the operational side in the crisis after the earthquake," Controller Rick Tuttle said. "When it came to the safeguards of taxpayers dollars . . . there were some serious problems."

William Luddy, executive director of a nonprofit cooperative of contractors whose criticism helped prompt the audit, said he holds Squier directly responsible for problems in the loan program. He added that he hopes Squier's departure will lead to improved management at the department.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|