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Los Angeles public housing authority fires its CEO

Rudolf Montiel came under fire last year when his agency tried to evict tenants who protested at his home. He said the termination was retaliation for revealing the board's lavish travel expenses.

March 22, 2011|By Jessica Garrison, Los Angeles Times
  • The city of Los Angeles hired Rudolf Montiel to direct and clean up the troubled Housing Authority in 2004. He left Monday's commission meeting before the board announced their decision to fire him.
The city of Los Angeles hired Rudolf Montiel to direct and clean up the troubled… (Los Angeles Times )

Los Angeles' housing authority board voted Monday evening to fire the agency's chief executive, Rudolf Montiel.

The move comes less than six months after Montiel faced the wrath of city leaders when his agency tried to evict nine tenants who had protested housing authority policies at Montiel's Rancho Cucamonga home. At the time, City Council members called Montiel "childlike" and accused him of acting like "Big Brother." The eviction notices were later rescinded.

Montiel has headed the agency — and its $1-billion-a-year budget — since 2004.

The termination also follows Montiel's request this month that board members return thousands of dollars in "double-dipped" costs or travel expenses submitted without authorization or receipts.

Commissioners took per diems for travel expenses but also charged meals, sometimes extravagant ones including disallowed alcoholic drinks, to their agency credit cards, according to a CBS-TV Channel 2 report in February. The commissioners reported spending more than $150,000 over the last two years on travel and food, the station reported.

During the public comment portion of Monday's meeting, Montiel listened as tenants and agency employees alternately castigated and praised him. When commissioners went into closed session to discuss his performance, he left, saying as he stepped into an elevator that his anticipated firing "has an air of retribution and retaliation."

The board gave few specifics about the reasons for the decision, but Commissioner Rayman Mathoda and Patricia Glaser, a lawyer for the commission, said that over the last year the panel has lost confidence in Montiel's judgment.

Glaser offered two examples: the attempted eviction of the tenants who protested at Montiel's home and the installation of a $30,000 security system at Montiel's home paid for by the authority without authorization.

Glaser said it was a coincidence that the board had acted just days after Montiel asked commissioners to reimburse the agency for their travel costs. Mathoda said the commission began reviewing Montiel's performance last summer and called the process "thorough, comprehensive and objective."

The details of Montiel's departure have not yet been worked out. He was placed on paid administrative leave for 30 days. Ken Simmons, currently the chief operating officer, will serve as interim chief executive while the board conducts a nationwide search for a replacement, Mathoda said.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement that he supported the commission's decision. Although the housing authority, which is responsible for sheltering about 60,000 of the city's neediest families, runs mostly on federal money, Villaraigosa appoints the commission that oversees it.

After the vote, some in the crowd erupted in cheers of "si, se puede," or "yes, we can" in front of the Wilshire Boulevard building.

But many tenants — who have been organizing across the city's housing projects in recent months — also expressed disgust with the board.

"I'm not the biggest supporter of Montiel," said Margarita Amador, a former resident of the Pico Gardens project, "but these actions are based on retaliation" for the agency's release of commissioners' expense account records.

Veronica Mendoza, who lives at Rancho San Pedro and is one of the tenants who received an eviction notice after protesting at Montiel's home, chastised board members who "did support Mr. Montiel when he wanted to evict me."

She and another tenant also blasted commission President Bea Stotzer, who they say left a meeting with tenants because she said her telenovela was on. Stotzer did not attend the meeting Monday.

Other speakers defended Montiel. Sylvena Parker, president of the union that represents more than 400 employees, called Montiel "a reformer who not only saved a struggling agency but turned it entirely around."

For most of his seven years in Los Angeles, Montiel flew under the radar, little noticed by City Hall or the public even as he was running the largest public housing authority west of the Mississippi.

Montiel arrived after a series of corruption and mismanagement scandals that left the authority on the brink of federal takeover. Three of the last four executive directors left after inquiries involving alleged misappropriation of public funds.

Montiel said he rooted out rampant corruption and had been widely praised for cleaning things up.

The board awarded him a $25,000 bonus last year, part of a compensation package that is worth nearly $450,000 and includes 10 weeks of vacation.

jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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