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Controller’s Race: Paul Koretz Pontificates on L.A. Animal Services’ Mismanagement, Mejia Volunteers at LAAS Shelter

ANIMAL WATCH - While Councilman Paul Koretz posted photos this week of former City officials endorsing his campaign for Controller, his opponent Kenneth Mejia, CPA, was continuing to actively meet with community groups on issues affecting the entire city.

He recently took time to volunteer at a Los Angeles Animal Services’ shelter to personally experience why animal lovers, volunteers and rescuers are distraught over the horrific conditions for pets and employees at L.A. City shelters. 

Mejia also dedicated an entire section on his website to Animal Welfare to explain his intended method of auditing the troubled and mismanaged Los Angeles Animal Services Department, which has become a major area of public concern reported by such major media outlets as the L.A. Times and L.A. Daily News, due to abhorrent overcrowding, lack of basic care and reported refusal to accept some lost, stray, and unwanted pets. 

The officials pictured on Koretz endorsement page—while respected past public servants—have little knowledge of Koretz recent performance. (For instance, former Councilman Joel Wachs left the City Council in 2001, long before Koretz took office in 2009.) 

BACKGROUND – KORETZ CANNOT ESCAPE RESPONSIBILITY 

In 2010 Councilman Paul Koretz and former-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa personally selected Brenda Barnette (with no public-shelter management experience) out of 125 nationwide, experienced candidates to head the second-largest municipal shelter in the U.S. Her expertise was purportedly in fundraising, and she was a former dog breeder and current-AKC legislative liaison at that time. 

Koretz then promptly removed LAAS (a vital law-enforcement agency for both people and animals) from its former oversight by the Public Safety Committee and placed it under his newly formed “Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee (PAW),” which Koretz chaired. 

Then, recently he added “Audits” (PAAW) at approximately the time he announced his candidacy for Controller, to give the appearance that he is “already doing” Controller’s duties. 

Koretz also has announced that he wants to restore funding to the Animal Cruelty Taskforce, although he offered no objection to it being defunded earlier. (See: LAAS GM Seeks $60M for Feral Cat/TNR Plan as LAPD Animal Cruelty Program Cut) 

TO DETERMINE KORETZ’ FUTURE PERFORMANCE, LOOK AT HIS PAST/ PRESENT 

One thing that has been consistent in Koretz (post-Villaraigosa) career is the employment of Jim Bickhart, former Villaraigosa deputy, as his political advisor. (Jim Bickhart | Policy and Legislative Consultant.) 

Here’s a brief excerpt from Bickhart’s posted biography: “Jim consults on a variety of policy and legislative matters, including housing, homelessness, land use, airports, infrastructure, environment and animal welfare, amongst others. Additionally, he provides support in the area of communication.” 

 Bickhart’s questionable “communication skills” by his own words in the following editorial by Ron Kaye. 

RON KAYE ON CITYWATCHLA   

An important editorial by Ron Kaye, the highly respected former-editor of the Los Angeles Daily News, was re-posted on CityWatchLA, in April 2013, and is as telling as when first written, “The Firing of Kathy Riordan: A Window into the Depths of Corruption at City Hall.” 

His op-ed is even more important as Paul Koretz’ makes a bid for the critical office of Controller because of Jim Bickhart’s continued—and current—employment by Koretz. There is no reason to believe Bickhart would not continue in a related capacity if Koretz were elected as Controller. (That would mean Koretz, with a BA in history and Bickhart with a degree In Sociology could be making the future financial decisions for the City of Los Angeles.) 

KAYE ON LA -The simmering controversy over how and why Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa fired long time Animal Services Commissioner Kathy Riordan finally boiled over into public view today—thanks to a comprehensive report in the blogosphere, not the mainstream media. 

The Daily News early in March told the story of Riordan, daughter of the former mayor, being forced out after 14 years on the commission but it was left to animal rights activist Phyllis Daugherty to report the back story of how narcoleptic Deputy Mayor Jim Bickhart arrogantly carried out orders—one that delighted him having long expressed his dismay at Riordan’s independent-minded efforts to provide sensible policies. 

When Riordan questioned why she was being [removed] when the next mayor can replace the entire commission in July, Bickhart responded to her by e-mail, “If you want to raise a stink or question the Mayor’s logic or authority to make the change, I can only report that to my supervisors and they will just accept your boiler-plate letter and be done with it.” 

Daugherty reports the “boiler-plate” letter is “the undated, pre-signed letter required of all Animal Commission appointees and kept on file in case they don’t vote the wishes of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (and current Mayor Eric Garcetti). It undermines the original purpose of having a citizen oversight panel to expose questionable practices and proposals” as it was in Riordan’s case. 

Her article at opposingviews.com opens a window into the culture of the Villaraigosa administration where influence peddlers spouses are appointed to the Ethics Commission, where the six-figure seats on the Board of Public Works are handed to political hacks and insiders, where the highly-paid top executives of city departments are reduced to slavish obedience to order from above. 

The result is a city government that is totally politicized, totally corrupted to the point where solving LA’s problems and serving the public are no longer the goals of a system that serves itself. 

Daugherty’s article provides a glimpse of what went on for a long time and continues to go on in one department, but you can look at any aspect of city government from financial management of the never-ending budget crisis to the way the parks and libraries are run and contracts are awarded and you will find the same thing. 

Are Wendy Greuel or Eric Garcetti going to change any of that? After all their years as part of it, do they even see what is wrong? 

Will the Kantor LA 2020 Commission comprised of union bosses who helped corrupt City Hall for their own benefit or the members of the commission who have profited from it or gone along for the ride even take note of fact that the city’s real problem isn’t the economy or the budget. 

The real problem is political corruption. You can be sure that no one who can do anything about that is about to stand up to it like Kathy Riordan tried to do time after time. 

(Ron Kaye is the former editor of the Daily News, founder of Save LA Project and blogs at ronkayela.com where this column was first posted.) 

BEFORE YOU VOTE 

Also, before you vote for Koretz, read another important CityWatchLA article by Daniel Guss, entitled, “Mayor G Slams Door on City Hall Bully,” which begins, “In his signed December 1, 2010 disciplinary memo, publicly posted on the “Yo Venice” blog, Jim Bickhart, a then-aide to Mayor Villaraigosa admitted to posting inflammatory, anonymous comments pertaining to a Venice land use issue.” 

And, see the November 6, 2022, article by the Daily News for a synopsis of all the issues Koretz knew have been ongoing problems, but ignored as Chairman of the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee. 

LAAS AUDIT UNDER CONTROLLER GALPERIN WAS “CHEERLEADING”

 

One purported official audit was performed in 2019 by current-Controller Ron Galperin; however, it was devoid of details of evaluating income/donations, expenditures and performance. Rather, the Controller sang praises of Barnette and focused on the joys of the mythical (but highly lucrative) illusion of “No Kill. (See: L.A. Animal Services Audit: Not Analysis – It’s Cheerleading. 

Koretz is now immersed in one of the most disturbing examples of an elected official being out of touch and ignoring smoldering evidence of mismanagement at LAAS until it erupted in flames—in the form of volunteers addressing it to the media, after months of complaints and pleas for help for the animals. 

MEJIA STEPPED UP TO EXPERIENCE THE CURRENT LAAS SHELTER ENVIRONMENT 

Mejia, an outsider who is a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA)—refers to himself also as a “pet parent” and was pictured with two happy, well-cared-for dogs—has listened to volunteers and staff at City shelters, rather than cut them off or dismiss them after a one-minute comment (as occurred at Koretz’ recent virtual meetings). 

Mejia also signed up, attended training, and has spent time volunteering in the West Valley shelter to understand the very real and cruel outcomes of overcrowding and understaffing for the animals and the heartache of volunteers and staff who are trying to get help. 

Koretz admits that he has not recently visited the shelters because he is “receiving reports.” One volunteer said he told her he hasn’t been inside a shelter in years. 

HOW THE DYSFUNCTION BEGAN

The past-officials who were pictured on Koretz’ recent endorsement page have little knowledge of his failure to maintain the stability, efficiency and transparency of Los Angeles Animal Services under ex-GM Brenda Barnette (whose legacy is now carried on by Interim GM Annette Ramirez), including receipt of millions of dollars in donations from large humane organizations which also have contracts or other connections to the Department. 

This was forbidden until Koretz and Barnette changed the carefully restricted Animal Welfare Trust Fund from an account where donations were used only to improve the lives of animals at the shelters to “any purpose authorized by the General Manager.” (See: Are LAAS Animal Trust Funds Being Misused?) 

This opened the door for non-profit groups to gain information and contracts to provide programs/services inside the shelters, and for retail pet food/supply and other companies to gain access to valuable contact information about new adopters and citywide pet-ownership. 

This information is placed in a national database and used to solicit donations, sales and sell pet insurance, etc. and advertise services such as veterinary care, grooming and luxury products. These electronic “mailing lists” are solid gold to pet-related companies. 

The reported national income by the pet industry in 2021 was $123 billion. 

(See: Are LAAS Animal Welfare Trust Funds Being Misused? And, LA Mayor and City Attny: Public Records Act Info Exposes Bent ... If Not Broken ... Rules for Animal Charity) 

CAN MEJIA DO THE JOB OF CONTROLLER? 

Kenneth Mejia is an unknown in major political circles, but he has a degree in Finance and has a Certified Public Accounting license, which has been discounted by Koretz supporters for being intermittently expired. 

Some of his associations and past published comments seem irreverent and some are alarming. However, his recent activities and method of approaching the problems at Los Angeles Animal Services shelters was “hands-on” and his resultant recommendations are thoughtful and sensible. 

He is young and not involved in traditional political circles, which may be an asset to Los Angeles and, if he uses the same approach of ride-alongs and real-life street dangers faced by such vital services as Los Angeles Police Department and Fire Department, there is good reason to believe his views may be shaped by the danger and reality of the streets. 

Certainly, we have to start addressing embedded corruption and lethargy in regard to current and future problems for this City—not just watch our beloved Los Angeles spend itself out of existence and continue the exodus of taxpayers to other states—leaving only the homeless to populate our streets and communities. 

It seems obvious that NO ONE in current City government sees the downward spiral of cronyism, nepotism and transforming the structure of the City to fit personal preferences or advantage as a problem—including Paul Koretz.

 

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a contributor to CityWatchLA and a former Los Angeles City employee.)