City Hall’s “cash cows” — DWP, Harbor and Airport — are hiring hundreds of workers they don’t need to reduce layoffs caused by the general fund budget crisis, launching new projects that were on the backburner and hiring political pals for work that doesn’t need to be done.
Good times or bad, it’s business as usual at City Hall. The public interest be damned; the insiders and special interests need money just like the rest of us. The only difference is we keep paying higher rates, fees and taxes and they keep milking the cash cows.
A case in point is the good fortune that smiled last week on former Deputy Mayor for political manipulation Kevin Acebo, who left the Villaraigosa Administrative two years ago with the mayor’s praise as a “creative leader…(whose) energy, enthusiasm and skill will be greatly missed.”
It was a tough time to start his Long Beach consulting firm, Acebo and Associates, and he has a big family to support so the $190,000 a year marketing, communications and lobbying contract handed him by the Port of Los Angeles will no doubt come in handy.
“By filling this role immediately on a contract basis by a team that’s fully knowledgeable of the port’s and city’s legislative agenda, Acebo and Associates can assist us in our local, regional, state and federal advocacy efforts,” Geraldine Knatz, harbor executive director, offered in way of explanation.
“The port also will be saving money, an important consideration during these challenging times,” she added.
Daily Breeze reporter Art Marroquin noted pointedly that Acebo’s mission was previously filled by former state Assemblyman Wally Knox who Villaraigosa named as deputy executive director of external affairs overseeing marketing and communications.
“After only six months on the job, however, Knox stepped down last October while the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office investigated whether his position posed a conflict of interest.
“Knox’s wife, Elizabeth Garfield, is a partner with a Los Angeles law firm that represents the unions for the longshore workers, marine clerks and port pilots working at the port…Knox had worked under a contract at the port after the Los Angeles City Council unanimously agreed last year to block creating the new senior executive position, which paid $205,000 annually as the port grappled with declining revenues.
Not to worry, Villaraigosa transferred Knox immediately to the Department of Water and Power, where he performed similarly vague duties for six months.
It’s no secret: It doesn’t matter what you know but who you know.
In its heyday in LA, Fleishman-Hillard knew a lot of the right people and landed millions of dollars in contracts with the cash cow proprietary departments.
Two years ago, knowing the right people helped The Rogers Group and Hill & Knowlton split $3 million in contracts with the harbor for similar work in public relations and communications — deals that got reduced by 75 percent because of an uproar due to the mayor’s oft-ignored ban on such contracts.
Now, it’s Acebo’s turn. Not surprisingly, he’s a guy with connections that run deep in the system.
Here’s his resume: USC, legislative consultant to Assembly Speaker Willie Brown for eight years, political consultant to state Sen. Art Torres, U.S. Rep. Mel Levine and several Democratic Assembly members, assistant chief of staff for County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky for six years, political director to the California Democratic Party for four years, a year off on his own representing the SEIU, airport police and the state Democratic Party before joining the Villaraigosa Administration.
Is it any wonder then that Acebo is the right man for this job, where it needs to be done or not?
Acebo has got friends, lots and lots of friends in high places. What else does anybody need around City Hall these days?
When it comes to having friends at City Hall, Acebo is small potatoes compared to Maria Elena Durazo, head of the County Federation of Labor. She’s the real thing.
The harbor is in the final stages of negotiating a project labor agreement with the unions that will require all contractors on the $1 billion in construction that is planned to hire unionize workers and pay their pension and benefit costs in exchange for a promise not to strike.
“Of the thousands of jobs expected to be created over the next 10 years, at least 30 percent would be set aside for residents living in communities with high unemployment rates. Another 10 percent of the jobs would go to so-called at-risk workers, including those with criminal records and the homeless,” the Breeze’s Marroquin reported last week.
Other cities in the state are barring these deals and contractors hate them enough to plan an initiative to ban them in LA.
“Project labor agreements are smoke-filled, back-room deals that are put together by small but increasingly influential special interest groups,” said Kevin D. Korenthal, executive director of the Associated Builders and Contractors’ California Cooperation Committee.
“We’re trying to work with the port and talk to Southern California cities and help them see that they can serve their residents better by paying prevailing wages so that both union and nonunion companies can compete on an even playing field.”
LA doesn’t believe in competition. That’s why the CRA cut a project labor agreement on all its subsidized developments two years ago and why the Public Works Department is negotiating a similar pact now.