Monday, April 11, 2016

Garcetti GM Returns Misappropriated Funds

Question:  How does one buy a brand new Mazda Miata MX-5, have a combined household income north of $218,000 and circumvent qualifying for a City of Los Angeles "Very Low Income" spay/neuter voucher?

Answer:  Sleep with the General Manager.

The email admission last week by Brenda Barnette, Mayor Garcetti’s GM of LA Animal Services, to misappropriating a low-income spay/neuter voucher for her long-term, live-in girlfriend was no surprise. They were not entitled to it.

Nor was it a surprise that it took her a year and a half to do so.   City Hall insularly protects its own, and everyone from the Mayor, City Council, City Attorney, Garcetti’s five LAAS Commissioners and most disturbingly, City Controller Ron Galperin, knew but excluded it and so many other concerns in his evasively wasteful non-audit. 

What is a surprise, however, is that Barnette’s underling lied about it to City Councilmembers one day earlier.

“Has anyone ever been caught misusing these funds,” asked LA City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson who, along with his colleagues Committee Chair Paul Koretz and David Ryu, had the misappropriated voucher and related evidence in front of themselves. 

“No,” replied Dana Brown, Barnette’s Assistant GM, who knew better.

Without so much as a follow-up question, Harris-Dawson, Koretz and Ryu voted unanimously to make it even easier to get the voucher.  No proof required.  Just put your signature on an affidavit.

On the grand scale, this lie pales in comparison to others told by city officials about LA Animal Services, such as its falsifying 8,807 pet “adoptions” when they simply moved those animals from cages in one city-owned building to another.  More on that subject very soon.

As the Latin phrase goes falsus in unum, falsus in omnibus.  

If they lie about one thing, you can assume that they lie about everything. 

The program that Barnette and Chavez-Hutson knowingly abused has very clear rules that should be especially understood by Barnette, who so far has raked in more than $1 million in salary during her 5+ years in LA.  How could she not know the rules of a primary program she has overseen for that long?   Why did she not immediately rectify the situation when it was first brought to her attention?

LAAS has a variety of spay/neuter programs for which all city residents are eligible.   For those who are poor, there is a Very Low Income Program that provides the services for free.  It has just two requirements:

  1. The dog must belong to you.   There are other programs with which to help strays, but this is not it.
  2. You must have “a qualifying income” that considers just two factors: combined household income and the number of people living in the home, regardless of their relationship (or lack thereof) or their age or disabilities.
Barnette and Chavez-Hutson were excluded on both points.   The dog in question was a stray who “wandered into” their home in 2014.  And according to Barnette’s email (see first link in this article), and backed-up by real estate records, she and Chavez-Hutson, at the time that the voucher was issued, had “lived together for 2+ years.”  

Since Barnette’s 2014 income was $218,000, it alone (excluding Chavez-Hutson's income) was 650% higher than LAAS’s posted limit of $34,200 for a two-person household.

Barnette fallaciously suggested at various intervals that Chavez was eligible because of her age, disability, income or whether or not they are domestic partners. Each of these excuses is a red herring; utterly irrelevant.  They did not qualify but knowingly took the low income discounts regardless.  Last week, Barnette admitted its misuse was because the dog was a stray, and that she “donated” two-fold back to the city the misappropriated funds.

But even that wasn't the entire truth.

Chavez-Hutson’s use of her LADWP bill, which also affords her an undeserved low income discount (due to the same qualifying income thresholds) shows that the intent was to deceive the city that their combined household income was below the threshold.   Otherwise, why would she have provided the DWP bill to the shelter? Barnette had to have known that she was ineligible based on income as well because she was called by the shelter captain to explicitly approve the voucher when the desk clerks weren’t buying it. “We have lived together for 2+ years,” is what Barnette wrote just two months later, and the staffers knew it.

Keep this in mind if you think Chavez-Hutson was scraping by on pennies:  Just a few months earlier, she bought a newMazda Miata MX-5, and farted about it on Facebook.   

Three things matter now.   First, will City Council ask Brown, the Assistant GM, what she meant when she told its committee that nobody had ever been caught misusing the funds?  Second, exactly when did Barnette know the funds were misused compared to the date she made the “donation” back to the account?  She refuses to respond to my CPRA request for proof showing when, and whether, that donation was actually made.

And third, when will the city have a comprehensive external audit of LAAS in which the public is invited to participate?