YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Prop. BB Funds Need Eagle Eye

LAUSD should name an inspector general to reassure taxpayers

September 28, 1997

The firm chosen by the Los Angeles Unified School District to manage its massive school bond repair and maintenance program flunks the smell test. The school board and Supt. Ruben Zacarias cannot afford even a whiff when it comes to projects funded by Proposition BB bonds, which voters approved only after being promised that all spending would be independently reviewed by a citizens panel. To safeguard the public trust, the district needs to appoint without delay an inspector general to investigate this matter, and to watch other controversial spending projects like the expensive construction of the new Belmont High School.

O'Brien Kreitzberg Inc., the company chosen to manage Proposition BB jobs, ran into trouble several years ago while advising the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The state Fair Political Practices Commission fined the firm for laundering campaign contributions through employees who made individual contributions and were later reimbursed on their expense accounts. Why then did the firm's representatives answer "no" on the school district's questionnaire that asked whether the firm "or any of its current or past key people or affiliate firms" had been the subject of investigations of alleged violations of federal, state or local law?

O'Brien Kreitzberg has been reconfigured since the fines were levied, but many of the principals remain the same. This splitting of hairs has prompted Timothy Lynch, a member of the Proposition BB oversight panel and a deputy city controller, to call for an inspector general. That is a good idea.

The worth of inspectors general in local government has been proven. Arthur Sinai, a vigilant, aggressive, independent inspector general, ferrets out waste, fraud and mismanagement at the troubled MTA. He and his team have uncovered financial irregularities and discouraged bribes and kickbacks from those who seek to improperly influence the awarding of lucrative contracts.

A similarly tough inspector general, Katherine Mader, polices the L.A. Police Department. She is the first to hold the position, which functions as the investigative arm of the civilian Police Commission. As such, she has civilian oversight of a disciplinary system that had a reputation for being lax and inequitable. During her first year on the job, Mader documented a double standard that punished rank-and-file members more harshly than it did those in the upper echelon. She criticized the department's failure to root out officers who lie or cover for colleagues under a "code of silence." Her scrutiny encourages the department to mete out discipline fairly.

Supt. Zacarias will ask the school board to approve the creation of an inspector general at the next meeting, on Oct. 6.

The school district's inspector general would review all expenditures for school design, construction and repair under Proposition BB funding, including thousands of repair and maintenance jobs at hundreds of campuses. Functioning as an independent investigator, the official also would conduct audits, review problems, probe tips and respond to complaints involving contracts and spending projects throughout the school district.

A tough and persistent inspector general would relieve the superintendent and school board of many time-consuming duties and allow them to concentrate on improving education. A watchful eye is worth the price.

Los Angeles Times Articles