By Rodolfo Trujillo
Los Angeles Community College District Inspector General Christine Marez released a report last week stating that there was the possibility of “improper design-build scoring,” and alleged coercion in district bond construction.
The improprieties were reported to have occurred at West Los Angeles College and Los Angeles Mission College
Marez’s report comes a week after Board President Miguel Santiago announced that Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Gruel will investigate the hiring of Marez and her firm Policy Masters Inc. This was after the Office of the State Controller reported in an audit that Policy Masters did not score high enough to merit the contract and had only, at the last minute, been formed prior to the district making a decision.
A bidding to choose an inspector general began and included well-known accounting companies like Deloitte Services LP and Ernst & Young. The district decided to hire Policy Masters, an electrical engineer and former director of policies at the Los Angeles Unified School District, whose past job had included being a construction manager at District-contracted Gateway Science and Engineering Inc. for about three years, said Marez.
“Most of my career has been in public service,” said Marez, who worked with the LAUSD and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power prior to her hiring by the LACCD.
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) was created a little over a year ago by the district in the shadow of a Los Angeles Times investigation of mismanagement of its multi-billion dollar LACCD Builds Green program. There were many questions of how the money was being spent, including several instances where buildings were incorrectly constructed, resulting in millions spent to fix the errors.
There was also concern raised by the Times and other community groups that there were conflict of interest deals between district administrators and construction companies, leading some people to think that they were using the bond money to create financial opportunities for themselves and their associates. The fact that several construction companies had originally sponsored the state propositions that led to voter approval of spending bond money began to cause concern by some that there was a systemic failure to catch inappropriate spending in the district.
Marez said that the Los Angeles Times and State Controller’s Office have an incorrect view of an inspector general as an accountant, which she says is not close to beginning to identify the position. Marez said she is now certified as an inspector general by the Association of Inspectors General, which is a nationwide organization that sets standards for the position.
According to the AIG, their goal is to foster and promote public accountability and integrity. The OIG is to report directly to the Board of Trustees, who were being accused of conflict of interest.
“It’s my job to collect the facts and present all the information, unedited to the Board,” said Marez.
Marez said that her office currently has had almost half of their investigations started by a tip from the Whistleblower Hotline, from faculty, students, contractors, district staff and concerned citizens. The OIG currently has five completed audits, five ongoing investigations and six ongoing audits. While she cannot comment on ongoing investigations, the completed audits and reports are found on the OIG website, http://laccd-oig.org.
When asked about the allegations against her qualifications made by the Times and the state controller’s office, Marez said, “They made a lot of assumptions.
“They said I’m not qualified, yet they misquoted the report from the Association of Inspector General Completely.”
She said she is 100 percent confident in her staff, which at the present moment is not featured on the OIG website. Marez said she did not notice any problems at ELAC at that time.