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Tuesday
Jul202010

Dave Freeman re Greuel audit of DWP: "borderline ludicrous"

* TESTY, TESTY EXCHANGE TODAY BETWEEN MEMBERS OF THE L.A. CITY COUNCIL AND DWP TOP BRASS, INCLUDING INTERIM DWP GENERAL MANAGER AUSTIN BEUTNER AND FORMER INTERIM GENERAL MANAGER DAVID FREEMAN.... Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times:

   Executives with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power on Tuesday issued a sharply worded defense of their decision to withhold $73.5 million from city coffers in the middle of a recent fight over electricity rates, saying they did so to protect the utility's credit rating and its customers.

  During a lively exchange with City Council members, several of whom made no effort to disguise their disdain for the DWP, current and former managers of the nation's largest municipally owned utility responded to a report that accused them of misleading both the council and the public about the agency's financial health.

   After a lengthy standoff between the council and DWP over proposed rate increases, City Controller Wendy Greuel reviewed the utility's records and concluded that, contrary to its claim, the utility could have made the promised transfer to the cash-strapped city budget without first being granted the increase.

   But DWP Interim Chief Financial Officer Mario C. Ignacio said Greuel's report contained "material misstatements of fact" and wrongly concluded that the utility could have dipped into an $800-million cash balance to make the transfer.  Ignacio said the DWP has for years left that reserve untouched to reassure bond investors of its credit worthiness. Former Interim General Manager S. David Freeman went further, calling some of Greuel's arguments "borderline ludicrous."  "I stand by everything I said," Freeman told the council, referring to the April 5 letter in which he refused to make the transfer.

   Freeman's remarks were part of a spirited back-and-forth over a dispute that put Los Angeles' fiscal woes into the national spotlight. At one point, DWP commission President Lee Kanon Alpert insisted to council members that none of his votes on electrical rates were motivated by pressure from aides to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.  At another point, a high-level mayoral aide refused to identify the Villaraigosa staffers who had convened in a back room behind the DWP commission during a pivotal vote.  (LAT)

Tuesday
Jul202010

Villalobos to sue CalPERS??

* ALFRED VILLALOBOS, FORMER CALPERS OFFICIAL-TURNED PLACEMENT AGENT WHO HAS BEEN ACCUSED OF BRIBERY, SAYS HE INTENDS TO SUE THE AGENCY "FOR SPREADING LIES ABOUT HIM"....   From today's Sacramento Bee:

   Villalobos said he will sue the California Public Employees' Retirement System for $10 million, though he didn't say when. "You know that they lied publicly and said things that weren't true," he said in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.  The Nevada businessman said he's also considering suing California Attorney General Jerry Brown, adding that his office has "violated my civil rights."

  Brown's office sued Villalobos in May for $95 million, alleging he bribed then-CalPERS Chief Executive Fred Buenrostro and two other fund officials in order to steer billions in investments to his Wall Street clients. Among other things, the civil suit says Villalobos paid for their travel, hotel and entertainment.  Buenrostro also was sued, but the other two – former board member Charles Valdes and now-suspended investment officer Leon Shahinian – weren't. The state obtained a court order in Los Angeles freezing most of Villalobos' multimillion-dollar fortune.

   Villalobos filed for bankruptcy protection a month later. On Monday, he said he had to seek bankruptcy protection because of the lawsuit and freeze on his assets. Testifying at an informal hearing, he said he's had to rely on the generosity of relatives to make ends meet. "My two daughters-in-law have been gracious – they bring me food," he said.  "Thank God there are humans on earth who are more compassionate," he said, alleging that the state wants to keep him impoverished.

   Deputy Attorney General Jon Ichinaga asked him why he didn't seek an allowance from the court-appointed examiner who has control of his assets. Villalobos replied that he would have had to prepare a detailed accounting of his finances, risking perjury if there were errors, and "only an idiot would do that."  (Sac Bee)

 

Tuesday
Jul202010

LAX Concessions: disputed contract award recommendations.....

* I see that a subject I have been posting about for a while now -- the awarding of new LAX concession contracts -- has reached another level of politics and news coverage.....  LA Weekly article focuses on a fundraising event being held by Councilman Tony Cardenas.  And, as for why this particular event is drawing attention, Cardenas chairs the otherwise-relatively obscure Board of Referred Powers, a council committee which has now taken on the role of evaluating issues relating to recommendations for the concession contract awards.  Thus, as part of this, the question then ties back to who is involved with this fundraiser and questions as to their possible interests in the concession awards  (LA Weekly)

Tuesday
Jul202010

News of the Day: Tuesday, July 20

* ANGRY RESIDENTS TURN OUT AT BELL CITY HALL, RECALL PAPERS BEING CIRCULATED AGAINST $100,000-PER YEAR COUNCIL MEMBERS.  Following up on Los Angeles Times report last week on the outsized salaries being paid by city officials (highest-paid city manager in the country) in their tiny working-class city, Bell residents packed their city council chambers last night demanding resignations and/or an investigation.  Also, now that they are aware of the seemingly overly-generous salaries being drawn by their city officials, residents have mobilized to circulate recall petitions.  One member of the council, who was appointed last fall to fill an open slot after a resignation, says he was just as shocked as residents to learn that his colleagues are being paid almost $100,000 per year for their part-time posts compared to the $8,000 annual salary he is paid for his service as a council member. 

And just to throw another wrinkle into what has already become the subject of conversation all around town, it seems that the fellow who resigned from the council last year was then almost immediately named to a newly-created city job paying almost $100,000 a year and, in addition, that he is still being paid to serve on several city boards which are supposed to be limited only to elected city officials. (LAT)

***All of this, of course, reminds one of recent history in other nearby cities such as South Gate and Lynwood, where elected city officials ultimately ended up with felony convictions.... 

* FULL BODY SCANNERS COMING TO ALL LAX TERMINALS.... Daily Breeze reports that federal and city officials are expected to announce today that 24 full-body imaging scanners manufactured by Torrance-based Rapiscan Systems Inc. will be spread across all nine terminals at LAXThe move is part of the Department of Homeland Security's plan to roll out 450 body scanning devices at 11 airport across the country by the end of this year, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

   Rapiscan's Secure 1000 scanners, known as "backscatter machines," bounce low-level X-rays off airline passengers to peek underneath clothes as a secondary security screening measure.   The machines produce intimate images that obscure the faces of passengers, but natural curves and crevices are clear enough to detect hidden weapons or explosives. The graphic portraits are viewed by security screeners in a remote, enclosed area away from the passengers.  The revealing images are immediately deleted after each viewing and cannot be saved, transmitted or printed, according to the TSA.  (DB)

* A MUZZLE ON COMMUNITY REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY COMMISSIONERS?  CHAIRMAN WANTS POLICY ADOPTED TO KEEP BOARD MEMBERS FROM SPEAKING DIRECTLY TO THE PRESS.... Excerpt from today's Los Angeles Times:

   Los Angeles Mayor Antonio's Villaraigosa's most outspoken group of city commissioners could soon find themselves with less freedom to speak their minds.

   Bruce Ackerman, chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles, advised his colleagues last month that they should refuse to talk to the news media unless coached by the agency's public relations staff.

   In a six-page memo, Ackerman said his colleagues should "decline immediate comment" when contacted by reporters and instead refer calls to the agency's press office. That office can then provide them with "talking points," information that adheres to the agency's official message, he said.  "The public information office staff is able to suggest language for the commissioner to employ both to assure accurate representation of official … positions and to assist commissioners in expressing their own thoughts when appropriate or called for," he wrote.

   The proposed policy is unusual because the seven-member redevelopment board is known as one of the few city commissions chosen by the mayor with members who regularly disagree, sometimes passionately, and are willing to reject proposals that are submitted to them. These commissioners have been equally bold in articulating their views when talking to reporters.

   One City Hall activist voiced fears that Ackerman was trying to rein in opposing views and make the panel less independent. If Ackerman succeeds in getting his policy approved by his colleagues, the board probably will behave more like other Villaraigosa-appointed boards, said Becky Dennison, co-director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, an advocacy group for low-income residents that regularly appears before the redevelopment board.  "In reality, a lot of these commissions are just rubber stamps for [city] staff," she said.  (LAT)

* UNION PICKETING ON STORE PARKING LOTS, APPELLATE COURT RULING IN FAVOR OF RALPHS GROCERY COMPANY vs. UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS UNION....  Third District Court of Appeal, in Sacramento, holds that a 1975 law that allows peaceful picketing outside large multistore shopping malls does not apply to private property outside stand-alone stores such as the Ralphs-owned Food Cos. Market that had sought to have police remove the picketers as trespassers outside the new store.  UFCW spokesman says they will probably appeal the ruling.  (SF Chron)

Monday
Jul192010

A foreign affairs item that caught my eye.....

* AN INTERESTING NEW YORK TIMES REPORT OUT OF ISLAMABAD ON THE WIDENING DIVIDE BETWEEN THE RICH (WHO MAKE THE RULES AND BASICALLY PAY NO TAXES) AND THE POOR (WHO ARE OFTEN IN DESPERATE NEED OF HELP BUT RECEIVE LITTLE FROM THEIR GOVERNMENT.  Excerpt:

   Much of Pakistan's capital city looks like a rich Los Angeles suburb. Shiny sport utility vehicles purr down gated driveways. Elegant multistory homes are tended by servants. Laundry is never hung out to dry.  But behind the opulence lurks a troubling fact. Very few of these households pay income tax. That is mostly because the politicians who make the rules are also the country’s richest citizens, and are skilled at finding ways to exempt themselves.

   That would be a problem in any country. But in Pakistan, the lack of a workable tax system feeds something more menacing: a festering inequality in Pakistani society, where the wealth of its most powerful members is never redistributed or put to use for public good. That is creating conditions that have helped spread an insurgency that is tormenting the country and complicating American policy in the region. 

   It is also a sorry performance for a country that is among the largest recipients of American aid, payments of billions of dollars that prop up the country’s finances and are meant to help its leaders fight the insurgency.......... “This is a system of the elite, by the elite and for the elite,” said Riyaz Hussain Naqvi, a retired government official who worked in tax collection for 38 years. “It is a skewed system in which the poor man subsidizes the rich man.”

   The problem starts at the top. The average worth of Pakistani members of Parliament is $900,000, with its richest member topping $37 million, according to a December study by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency in Islamabad.  While Pakistan’s income from taxes last year was the lowest in the country’s history, according to Zafar ul-Majeed, a senior official in the Federal Board of Revenue, the assets of current members of Parliament nearly doubled from those of members of the previous Parliament, the institute study found. 

   The country’s top opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, reported that he paid no personal income tax for three years ending in 2007 in public documents he filed with Pakistan’s election commission. A spokesman for Mr. Sharif, an industrialist who is widely believed to be a millionaire, said he had been in exile and had turned over positions in his companies to relatives.  A month of requests for similar documents for Pakistan’s president and prime minister went unanswered by the commission; representatives for the men said they did not have the figures.  (NYT)