City Controller Wendy Greuel said that community college district officials… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
Yielding to outside pressure, the Los Angeles Community College District has asked City Controller Wendy Greuel to investigate allegations that its selection of a watchdog to police its troubled campus construction program was rigged.
In a recent audit of the $5.7-billion program, state Controller John Chiang's office cited "possible malfeasance" in the district's hiring of Christine E. Marez as inspector general and urged an independent investigation.
Marez's newly formed company, Policy Masters Inc., was chosen last year over higher-rated applicants, even though she had no experience as an independent auditor or investigator.
From 1998 to 2003, Marez worked for a construction management firm owned by Art Gastelum, a leading campaign donor and fundraiser for the district's elected board members and a major contractor on the construction program.
Chancellor Daniel LaVista, who had recommended Marez's hiring to the board, initially rejected Chiang's call for an outside investigation. But board President Miguel Santiago announced Wednesday that Greuel would conduct an independent review.
Santiago promised to refer any evidence of criminal conduct to the district attorney's office.
Greuel said in an interview that district officials were "taking to heart what the auditor found, and wanted to have an independent look at the process to make sure it was appropriate."
The board also adopted a resolution directing LaVista to take corrective measures recommended by state auditors, including developing a construction master plan and written requirements for evaluating bidders. The resolution also called for an analysis of the district's renewable energy program to determine whether it will produce net savings.
Regarding the inspector general's hiring, state auditors found that an initial selection committee scored Marez's proposal second to last among 11 submitted. The district's bidding rules required that the contract to go to the highest scorer, auditors said. A second selection committee recommended Marez's firm as "far and away the best" applicant.
LaVista maintains that the auditors' findings were based on incorrect information and that Marez was ranked in the top tier in the first round. LaVista said Wednesday that state auditors were returning this week to question him on the issue.
Marez said she welcomed Greuel's review. She also defended her qualifications and called the state audit "seriously flawed in many respects."
"The company I created, Policy Masters, and the staff I have built have all of the requisite skills, experience, talent and commitment to create an exceptional office of inspector general for the district," she said. "And that is what we have done."
A citizen's group, the Van de Kamps Coalition, has asked Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley to open a criminal inquiry into Marez's hiring. An official in Cooley's public integrity unit said prosecutors had not yet reviewed the request but that Greuel's investigation would not rule out a separate criminal inquiry by the district attorney.