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Ron Kaye: L.A. County is too big not to fail

February 26, 2012

The walls of L.A. County's Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration are so thick and shielding of public scrutiny that even the old-line Commies in charge of the Kremlin in Moscow would be envious.

The city's newspapers have assigned teams of reporters over the years to try to break through those walls of secrecy, but they've rarely been able to learn much, apart from the complete failure of the county Department of Children Services and the horror-show of the public health system.

The all-powerful county supervisors, given to boasting they have the best jobs in politics, once enforced a formal rule on county employees that made speaking to the press without prior approval of a supervisor grounds for dismissal. It's now just an unwritten rule, but all 100,000 county employees know their jobs are on the line if they blow the whistle.

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Years ago, supervisors assigned each department to a specific supervisor for oversight, but that provided individual accountability so they collectively ran the whole operation. When even that made them collectively accountable, they hired a chief executive officer so somebody other than themselves could be blamed for all that went wrong.

They gerrymander their districts for their own benefit, have access to so much campaign cash and each representing such vast areas that they are all but unbeatable. None has lost a re-election bid since 1980.

That's the year Mike Antonovich knocked off talk-show host Baxter Ward. Since then, Antonovich has reigned supreme over a carefully drawn district that runs across the northern half of the San Gabriel Valley through the tri-cities and a strip of the San Fernando Valley to the far north of the county.

He's unfazed by criticism, so it was natural for him to tackle the dirty job of trying to cure a blatant violation of the state's Brown Act requiring all public meetings of elected bodies be open and above board.

The supervisors were caught red-handed contemptuously violating the open meeting law in a series of illegal meetings last September, culminating in a group chat behind closed doors with Gov. Jerry Brown over dumping felons from state prisons into the county jail under prison realignment.

Even the sleepwalking District Atty. Steve Cooley cried foul, although he waited four months to conclude it was impermissible. He's done that before on more than one occasion, but found each time it really didn't matter — no harm, no foul.

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