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L.A. Controller Laura Chick named to new state post

April 04, 2009|Maeve Reston

Los Angeles Controller Laura Chick, whose audits often put her at odds with city officials, was named Friday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to a newly created inspector general post overseeing the disbursement of federal stimulus money within California.

At his Los Angeles field office, Schwarzenegger said Friday that Chick's new role would ensure transparency in how the state spends its more than $48-billion share of the federal money, which will be directed toward state and local governments, nonprofits and school districts.

"This is the wisest investment that we can make in our state to have someone like her there and watching over every single dollar," the governor said. "I can't think of anyone that is more efficient and more effective in getting in there and looking at where the waste is."

The governor, who created the $175,000 job by executive order, dismissed questions about whether the position was necessary when financial shortfalls are already causing state employees to be furloughed. "Laura has proven here in Los Angeles that whatever salary she gets here is worth it a hundred times over," he said.

Chick, who was forced out by term limits, said the position was a "perfect match."

"My mandate from the governor is to make sure these funds are spent wisely and well, and that we get the biggest bang for every single buck," Chick said.

The new inspector general said she hoped to offer special assistance to smaller government entities -- particularly those that lack an auditing team -- to assess the risk of projects and the reliability of contractors before federal dollars are spent. "If we do this right, and I am dedicated that we will, I think it will go a long way in turning around people's negative view, and disenchantment and disengagement with government," she said.

Chick entered public office in 1993, unseating an incumbent city councilwoman to represent a district in the San Fernando Valley. Eight years later, she was elected controller, turning that office into a political powerhouse that criticized the contracting decisions of then-Mayor James K. Hahn. Chick's audits of the airport, harbor and Department of Water and Power eroded Hahn's standing, dealing with topics that were the subject of state and federal corruption probes.

Known for her sometimes combative style, Chick produced audits that rankled some leaders as she plowed into topics such as the backlog of untested rape kits at the Los Angeles Police Department, employees' use of city gasoline cards and city departments' bottled water purchases.

Her most public spat was with City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo. After she issued subpoenas to six of his employees in an effort to audit a workers' compensation program, Delgadillo sued her.

Over eight years, she has shown a willingness to "take on virtually anyone in public office," said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State L.A. "She infuriated a lot of people," he said, "but I think much of the Los Angeles public loves her for turning over any stone that needs to be turned even if it causes political damage."

Schwarzenegger aides say the federal stimulus money provided through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act will include $14.9 billion for health and human services; $12.7 billion for education; $7.3 billion for roads, rails and other infrastructure; and $8.4 billion in aid to workers.

Chick's first day will be April 27; she plans to name Chief Deputy Controller Rushmore Cervantes as interim until Controller-elect Wendy Greuel takes office in July.

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

Dave Zahniser and Michael Rothfeld contributed to this report.

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