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Film Agency Cast Change

November 22, 2002

The hottest ticket in town may be for today's showdown between the embattled head of Los Angeles' film permitting agency and the agency's executive board.

Entertainment Industry Development Corp. President Cody Cluff has rebuffed calls by some board members to step aside during an ongoing criminal probe into possible misuse of funds. Today the executive committee is expected to give him the hook anyway and place him on paid administrative leave.

It's time. Putting Cluff on paid leave is not, as his lawyer claims, the same as jumping to the conclusion that he has done something illegal. It's simply good business.

The Los Angeles City Council and the county Board of Supervisors created the agency to keep film production, jobs and tax revenues from fleeing Los Angeles. Wooing film companies and making life easier for them by offering a one-stop permitting shop was and is a good idea.

City and county officials have every right to expect the agency's director to give the work his full attention. Cluff, however, complains of being caught up in a "political and journalistic frenzy" as the Los Angeles County district attorney's office serves search warrants from here to Pennsylvania, where investigators allege that he gave nearly $47,000 in agency funds to a Pittsburgh film office headed by a friend.

Cluff's refusal to recognize the need to step aside for the good of the agency is not the only poor judgment he's shown. Questions of legality aside, a county audit of the film agency turned up such over-the-top spending as 100% tips at restaurants and $3,000 memberships to cigar clubs. It also revealed contributions to some of the elected officials who sit on the agency's 45-member board; some members said they didn't even realize they were on the board until news of the investigation -- and political contributions -- broke.

The blame for that, of course, lies with the City Council members and county supervisors, who, after creating the agency in 1995 and putting themselves on its board, seem to have pretty much forgotten about it.

They know about it now, big-time, and have ordered up a better management structure than the current unwieldy one that combines politicians and industry representatives. They also need to clarify whether the agency they created is private or public; astonishingly, no one seems sure.

In the meantime, the board's executive committee will take a stride toward new accountability by removing Cluff, at least temporarily. Yes, the show must go on. But for now, it could do with a little less drama.

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