STEVE LOPEZ

Riding the public gravy train

But readers had more than just a couple of civic center targets in their sights.

"Oh, Steve, what about [L.A. County Supervisor Mark] Ridley-Thomas' $170,000 office remodel?" asked Diane W. "In times like this? APPALLING! Shameful! Nauseating and Disgusting!"

There was just one problem with Diane W.'s e-mail.

It wasn't a $170,000 remodeling job. As first reported by KABC-TV Channel 7, it was a $707,000 remodeling job.

That, by the way, is twice the cost of two median-priced homes in L.A. County.

"To work in an environment that's decent is part of what it means to keep people motivated," Ridley-Thomas told KABC.

They need new carpets to get motivated? I'd show them the unemployment numbers, and see if that motivates them.

Ridley-Thomas told me the $707,000 has been approved but not yet spent, so he'll look for cost savings as the project proceeds. He also said his office is cramped, has code violations and isn't as nice as those of his colleagues. I offered to come check it out, and he said he'd have to think about it.

I was in that office when it was occupied by former Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke, and I don't recall that it was in any better or worse shape than the others. Even if it were overdue for upgrades, isn't that something you put on hold, spending the money instead on programs that will help your suffering constituents?

Naturally, the other supervisors approved the expense, as did the county executive, because Rule No. 1 at that back-slapping factory is to never ruffle feathers.

On another matter, Ridley-Thomas has refused The Times' requests for records of communication between his office and an associate "who has been employed by corporations that do millions of dollars of business with the county and a rail project that Ridley-Thomas helps oversee," as The Times reported.

But in his defense, he might have been busy picking fabric.

I probably should call Burke and see what she makes of Ridley-Thomas knocking her old office. I've been meaning to call, anyway, because we haven't spoken since I asked why she didn't appear to be living in the district she represented as a supervisor.

Not that it kept Burke from being named to a House ethics panel that was looking into Rep. Laura Richardson (D- Long Beach) and how she managed to pull her run-down Sacramento house out of foreclosure after it appeared someone else had bought it. Richardson, at the time, had defaulted six times on two houses in Long Beach and San Pedro.

This is why I don't write about local politics every day. You turn over a rock, worms wiggle out, you follow them to another rock, more worms wiggle out.

For instance, I'm hoping to have a talk with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa before he leaves for the climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, about his pal Elliott Broidy, a venture capitalist who the mayor appointed to the Fire and Police Pensions board.

Broidy pleaded guilty last week to what New York Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo called "an old-fashioned payoff" involving $1 million in gifts to that state's pension officials.

OK, let's think about this: In New York, he had to pay off pension officials. In L.A., he was one.

And I have another question for the mayor: Is he going to mention at the climate conference that he appointed a deputy mayor for transportation whose vehicle of choice was a Hummer?

Oh, what a tangled web.

On a slightly cheerier note -- but I'll let you be the judge -- I did get a nice holiday card from Supervisor Mike Antonovich, complete with eight Bible quotations and a claim that no taxpayer funds were used in the mailing. Included in Antonovich's annual roundup was this nugget: "Our two miniature doxie dogs, Angel and Popcorn are well and happy."

Call me a tough guy, but I was trained to take no one's word for anything. So I'll check with the dogs and get back to you.

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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