7:00 PM EST, December 28, 2013
In more ways than one, I'm sorry to see 2013 fade into the books. Thanks to a steady run of incompetence, corruption and bungling by various public officials, it was a banner year for local news in Greater Los Angeles.
In other ways, I can't wait for 2014 to begin, because several of this year's cliffhangers are likely to play out in coming months.
Can Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca get reelected, yet again, after having a far worse year than "Duck Dynasty"?
Will 2014 be the year we finally find out what two mysterious nonprofits, jointly operated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Local 18 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, did with $40 million of ratepayer money?
More on those debacles in a moment.
But first, 2013 served to remind us of the value of putting eyeballs on public officials at all times, if not doing their jobs for them.
Los Angeles County officials launched a review after my colleague Garrett Therolf exposed cases of foster children maimed or murdered after being placed in the care of guardians working for private foster agencies despite having criminal records.
Los Angeles City Council members called for a review of seismic safety enforcement after a Times report — by Ron Lin, Rosanna Xia and Doug Smith — that more than 1,000 concrete buildings could be unsafe and that city officials have known about and largely ignored the risks for more than 40 years.
State regulators finally went after a Vernon battery recycler after Times reporters Jessica Garrison and Kim Christensen reported on dangerous arsenic emissions. The same duo, along with reporter Ben Poston, wrote about students vomiting and teachers gasping for breath at a school near a toxic dump site and about how state regulators failed to monitor the transportation and disposal of toxic waste.
Earlier this month, reporters Joel Rubin and Catherine Saillant reported that Los Angeles officials had approved a $6-million payout to police officers who accused their LAPD supervisors of imposing a ticket-writing quota on them and punishing them when they objected.
In 2013, Howard Blume has been all over an L.A. Unified School District in which political feuding and a botched attempt to hand every student an iPad may have factored into the resignation of a top deputy to Supt. John Deasy, who also threatened to resign. We still don't know why school officials agreed to the $1-billion iPad rollout with little planning and no explanation for buying unfinished software.
And this is the year in which the kingpins of the Bell corruption scandal — former city administrator Robert Rizzo and his top assistant Angela Spaccia — got fitted for prison jumpsuits. The most delicious detail in the entire saga, exposed by Times reporters Ruben Vives and Jeff Gottlieb, was a warning from Spaccia to the incoming police chief. Don't get too greedy, she told him in a city where the chief executive's salary was roughly twice that of President Obama's, because "pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered."
Speaking of which, more charges were added in October to the stack of accusations against Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez. Out on bail, Noguez continues to receive his $200,000 salary while on leave and awaiting trial for a scheme that allegedly cost taxpayers as much as $10 million in lost revenue.
And now here's a little pop quiz for you:
What did Sheriff Baca do 18 days after his current and former staffers were indicted on charges of beating jail inmates and a few days after Times scribes Robert Faturechi and Ben Poston reported that Baca's department had hired dozens of officers it knew to have seriously tarnished records?
A. Ran a half-marathon.
B. Apologized for his chronic failures.
C. Resigned in shame.
D. Hosted a reelection fundraiser.
The correct answer is D, and I'd like to tell you more, but I was turned away when I tried to crash the party.
And yes, Baca is running for a fifth term in 2014 despite an ongoing federal investigation and lawsuits that have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
Stay tuned to see how that turns out, and stay tuned, as well, to find out what's in the vault at those mysterious "safety" and "training" nonprofits funded by the DWP. IBEW's top dog, Brian D'Arcy, has refused to turn over records on how roughly $4 million a year in ratepayer money has been spent, despite an expose by my colleague Jack Dolan and demands from city officials.
Is D'Arcy just throwing a tantrum after blowing $4 million of his union's cash on the losing mayoral candidate in 2013?
Is there any good reason DWP chief Ron Nichols, who jointly runs the nonprofits, can't produce the records without the help of the city controller?
Meanwhile, after sending out an estimated 70,000 inaccurate bills this year, will 2014 be the year the DWP fixes its new billing system that cost $162 million?
And now, one last galling nugget from 2013.
Early this year, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission approved a proposal by commission member and county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to honor Nelson Mandela with a plaque in the Coliseum's Court of Honor. The South African leader spoke at the Coliseum in a sold-out freedom rally in 1990 after his release from prison.
But the commission said there were no funds available, so Ridley-Thomas would have to find another source to pay for the tribute to the international icon, whose courage and perseverance brought an end to apartheid.
The commission had no trouble, however, finding more than $15,000 for a plaque honoring another set of heroes.
Some of those same commissioners frequently skipped meetings while, under their noses, financial improprieties and shady deals flourished. The multimillion-dollar corruption scandal was exposed by Times reporters Paul Pringle, Rong-Gong Lin II and Andrew Blankstein.
Ultimately, six people were indicted.
Did I mention that the plaque honoring the derelict commissioners is displayed in the Court of Honor?
Joy to the world and happy New Year to all!
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