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Chick battles Delgadillo over right to review performance

The city attorney's workers' comp unit pays out millions.

November 21, 2008|Phil Willon | Willon is a Times staff writer.

Los Angeles Controller Laura Chick and City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo are at it again.

They have been fighting since June over whether Chick has the legal authority to conduct a performance audit of Delgadillo's workers' compensation unit, which oversaw $128 million in payouts last budget year.

On Thursday, Delgadillo filed a lawsuit against the controller to block the audit and scuttle her attempt to subpoena members of his staff. Chick, who has been in Mexico all week taking Spanish classes on her own dime, said that taxpayers were being "swindled" out of their right to a transparent and accountable government.

"When someone fights so hard to evade scrutiny that makes me want to go in and look even more," Chick said in a written statement released by her office.

At issue is a provision of the charter, the city's governing document, which states that the controller shall "conduct performance audits of all departments and may conduct performance audits of city programs, including suggesting plans for the improvement and management of the revenues and expenditures of the city."

Delgadillo argues that the charter does not specifically give the controller authority to conduct performance audits, which measure efficiencies and effectiveness of government programs, on "elected offices." Chick already has the authority to conduct financial audits, he said.

"The issue here is not transparency. The controller has conducted financial audits of the city attorney's office more than 20 times in the past seven years -- and we've passed each audit with flying colors," said Delgadillo's spokesman, Nick Velasquez. "The charter does not allow performance audits by the controller. The controller's effort to expend taxpayer money for an unauthorized audit during a time of fiscal crisis does a disservice to taxpayers."

Velasquez said the city attorney would welcome a performance audit of any unit in his office, but only if it's conducted by "a truly independent entity."

Chick first tried to audit the city attorney's workers' compensation program in June, and Delgadillo quickly filed suit in Superior Court to block it.

Then, in August, City Council members asked them both to set aside the legal battle and give the council an opportunity to put a measure on the March ballot that would allow voters to settle the issue.

While debating the matter, however, some council members expressed concern that the ballot measure would give the controller the authority to audit programs run by council members. The council failed to take action by Nov. 7, the deadline for approving measures for the March ballot, so the dispute remains unresolved.

On Tuesday, Councilman Tom LaBonge introduced a motion to put the issue on the May ballot, and again asked Delgadillo and Chick to cease fire.

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phil.willon@latimes.com

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