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Brown to eliminate state Office of Inspector General

The office, led since 2009 by former L.A. City Controller Laura Chick, has been responsible for overseeing more than $50 billion in federal stimulus funds. Brown has promised to cut 25% of the governor's office budget.

December 21, 2010|By Jack Dolan, Los Angeles Times
  • Laura Chick has complained that her efforts to shine a light on wasteful spending in Sacramento have been stymied by entrenched bureaucrats more interested in preserving their power than in ensuring public accountability.
Laura Chick has complained that her efforts to shine a light on wasteful… (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated…)

One of Gov.-elect Jerry Brown's first official acts will be eliminating the state Office of Inspector General, a position held by former L.A. City Controller Laura Chick, who has been responsible for overseeing more than $50 billion in federal stimulus money.

Brown's office said in a statement Monday that he is closing the operation, whose function mimics those of other state agencies, to save money.

"Ending this redundancy will save the state's General Fund over $700,000 in fiscal year 2010-11," the statement said. Brown has promised to cut 25% of the governor's office budget.

Chick, who achieved a measure of celebrity in Los Angeles for her public criticism of government waste, is not going quietly.

After announcing that Brown was closing her doors, Chick said the Capitol needs more oversight, not less. She complained that her efforts to shine a light on wasteful spending in Sacramento have been stymied by entrenched bureaucrats more interested in preserving their power than in ensuring public accountability.

"The state is not run by elected officials; it's run by very powerful, very knowledgeable civil servants," Chick said, adding: "Things don't change unless they want them to."

Brown's statement Monday said six audits that Chick's office is still working on will be finished by some of the bureaucrats she referred to, including those at the Bureau of State Audits and the Office of Audit and Evaluations in the Department of Finance.

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Chick in April 2009 to watch over the billions of federal stimulus dollars flowing from Washington, he said California was the first state in the nation to create such an office.

Schwarzenegger praised Chick's "impressive track record," telling the Sacramento establishment that the outspoken grandmother was "uniquely qualified" to ensure that stimulus money went where it was meant to go.

Accustomed to issuing blockbuster reports in Los Angeles, where she entered the city controller's office armed with subpoena power and years of experience on the City Council, Chick struggled to make her presence felt in Sacramento.

In her new job, she lacked the power of the subpoena, which allows investigators to compel testimony and the release of records. For the first year of her 21-month tenure she had a skeleton staff, Chick said. But neither of those obstacles was as daunting as the culture shock.

"It is a challenge here in Sacramento to know exactly what needs fixing and how to go about it, because of the embedded culture of 'we don't air our dirty laundry,' " Chick wrote in a letter to Brown and Schwarzenegger on Monday.

When Schwarzenegger proposed making audits of state agencies public on the Internet, officials offered "all kinds of excuses to avoid complying," Chick wrote. Some departments claimed it would take years to scan and post the reports.

Chick, a Democrat, said the state would have been better off if Brown had chosen to expand her powers, but she understands that he has a mandate to reduce spending wherever possible.

"The Governor-elect faces an extremely difficult job in grappling with the severity of the state budget crisis," Chick wrote. "I wish him the very best during the months ahead."

This year, Schwarzenegger proposed making Chick's office permanent, with a $2.8-million budget, but legislators rejected the plan. Instead, they put the money into the governor's office budget.

Some Republicans, who have generally supported budget cuts of any kind, criticized Brown's move.

"Abolishing this office sends a signal to those who would abuse taxpayer funds that the state will not be overly concerned watching over how taxpayer money is spent going forward," said a statement from California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring.

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. One of her last audits in that post exposed a backlog of untested DNA rape kits at the Los Angeles Police Department.

jack.dolan@latimes.com

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