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Ridley-Thomas urged to re-examine renovations

December 17, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is now under pressure to re-examine plans for his expensive office renovations. His colleagues want him to either rescind or modify his plans to spend $707,000 on his offices. They have apparently given him until Friday to make a decision.

Ridley-Thomas was elected a year ago and wants to extensively remodel his 6,400-square-foot office space. The board had unanimously approved the $707,000 renovations on Dec. 1, but apparently didn't anticipate the growing public controversy.

The project comes as the county's unemployment rate is among the highest in the country and the budget contains serious cuts. The county is under a hiring freeze and has cut a number of positions and services.

However, in two interviews with Eyewitness News earlier this month, Ridley-Thomas strongly defended the renovations as needed and overdue.

"I fight for my employees, I fight for my constituents, and I fight for decent standards for persons to work in. And this is not quite what it ought to be and it's time to move that agenda forward, unapologetically," said Ridley-Thomas on Dec. 1. "There's no reason to think this office should have anything less than any other office. That day is over, gone, goodbye."

An itemized list of estimated costs of the renovations includes $50,000 to replace 725 square-yards of carpet, $17,000 for stone flooring, $19,000 to replace the acoustic ceiling tiles, more than $31,000 for window and door treatments, and nearly $120,000 to restore woodwork in the office.

The renovation money would come from a discretionary fund that each supervisor can spend at will.

"This is the only office that hasn't had any improvements. That is not acceptable," the supervisor said at a ceremony along Ballona Creek on Dec. 4.

However, there were a few improvements made under his predecessor Yvonne Burke. She says new carpet and drapes were put in and the conference room was refurbished.

Ridley-Thomas' offices don't appear to be so different than the other four supervisors' facilities, which all have had renovations over the past 10 years. The supervisor's estimated renovations would cost 13 times more than all four of his colleagues have spent on their offices over two years.

"It's completely defensible and it's not reasonable, it is not fair to compare this to other supervisors," said Ridley-Thomas.

According to several sources, new board president Gloria Molina has been talking to Ridley-Thomas on behalf of the rest of the board. She's been putting pressure on him to change his mind.

With outside criticism growing, Ridley-Thomas now wants an outside consultant to conduct an independent audit to see where money could be saved in the renovation. He has also talked with county chief executive officer Bill Fujioka.

In an interview for Eyewitness Newsmakers, Thomas started backpedaling, saying he would not spend all the money approved for his office.

"No money has been spent. It is an estimate at best and you can bet your bottom dollar that we will protect taxpayers' resources," said Ridley-Thomas.

Calls to the supervisor's office were not returned Thursday. He is in Washington, D.C., but will be back in Los Angeles Friday.


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