L.A. CITY HALL: Response, Greuel audit, "Gold Card Desk" for parking tickets; city budget, new borrowing, "stop digging" (editorial)....
City officials scrambled Thursday to explain the existence of a "Gold Card Desk," a little-known 20-year-old office that politicians and their staffs could use to request the dismissal of parking tickets. The two-person Department of Transportation office was revealed Thursday as part of an audit released by City Controller Wendy Greuel.
Overseen by the LADOT, the office's special phone number and email were provided to elected officials to discuss constituent complaints about parking tickets, and request they be deleted or reduced. Hundreds of blue-tinted cards with the words "Gold Card" bearing the special number to call were handed out to elected officials and their staffs, according to LADOT.
Greuel, who is exploring a run for mayor, said the agency dismissed about 1,000 tickets over the last two years, or about half of the requests it received through the Gold Card. But her auditors could find no explanation for why most of those dismissals were made as the city had no paper trail documenting the reasons. "You shouldn't need political pull to expedite the investigation of a ticket," Greuel said, adding that she was "very surprised" to discover the existence of the program through her audit.
But hours after Greuel's press conference, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office struck back at the controller, alleging that not only had Greuel known about the program when she served on the City Council, but her staff had made use of it. The mayor's office released documents indicating that Greuel, who had chaired the council's Transportation Committee, voted to renew the contract of the company that maintains the program and had been briefed on its operations.
The five-year contract with ACS, considered in November 2006, mentions the Gold Card program, calling it a "outreach program for high-level city officials, high profile complaints and public record complaints." Greuel spokeswoman Claire Bartels did not respond to the question of whether Greuel knew about the program when she was on the City Council...................
* Los Angeles Times: "Mayor's office accuses Greuel's former staff of having used special 'Gold Card Desk' for parking citations" - From the LAT:
In an audit released this week, City Controller Wendy Greuel harshly criticized a little-known program for city officials to fast-track citation reviews, but some at City Hall say she must have known about the program despite her claims otherwise. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office released information Thursday that Greuel's office used the service while she was on the council and provided email correspondence from Greuel's office seeking help from the Gold Card Desk in 2006. She also voted in 2006 to award a contract to the L.A. Department of Transportation's ticket vendor -– Affiliated Computer Services -– that included the Gold Card Desk service.
The mayor's office also said that Greuel had been informed of the Gold Card Desk while on the council, both through a report from the city's Transportation Department and in written documents in 2007 explaining that the department would be briefing members of her field staff about parking citation issues.
Greuel has consistently said that she only learned of the program during the audit, and was unaware of the Gold Card Desk while she was a councilmember and never used the service. But Greuel said she stands behind the audit's findings, which suggested that the process allows some to get special treatment.
Many at City Hall and within the Transportation Department have defended the integrity of the program, which started 20 years ago, saying it is a constituent service comparable to calling the mayor or council offices to ask for graffiti removal.
* Los Angeles Times: "Angelenos furious over special 'Gold Card' for traffic tickets"
* Daily News (editorial): "There's no place for favoritism in L.A.'s financial state today"
* Los Angeles Times (editorial): "City Council wisely stops digging a hole with Los Angeles budget" - "Los Angeles City Council was right to reject borrowing $43 million to help close the budget gap. Now if it could just secure a pension concession from police officers." - From the LAT:
Former British Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey once laid out what he called the First Law of Holes: "If you are in one, stop digging."
The Los Angeles City Council followed that advice this week, rejecting Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's call for $43 million in new borrowing to help close the city's budget gap. It was a smart move that Villaraigosa should not challenge. But the council's budget for the coming fiscal year has its own shortcomings, including a reliance on one-time solutions that don't solve the city's long-term budget problems.
. . . . . The smorgasbord of cuts reflects the council's determination to stretch its budget ever thinner to maintain city services rather than doing fewer things and doing them well. With large budget gaps expected well into the future, the mayor and the council at some point have to get serious about consolidating operations around core functions and reducing the scale of city government. To their credit, they've begun to ask those questions. They just haven't made the tough choices yet...............