Chick vs. Rocky: No Decision

Calling the months-long legal dispute between the City Attorney and Controller an embarrassment, L.A. City Council members spent yet another session Wednesday going around in an embarrassing circle before finally deciding to ask the combatants yet again to "stand down" while they try to make a legally meaningless determination of what the City Charter means.

The net effect of the cliche-ridden debate was to leave City Controller Laura Chick dangling in the legal wind. She only has 10 days left to answer City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo's lawsuit challenging subpoenas she issued to his staff for information about how his office has performed in handling costly worker compensation cases filed by city employees.

Chick's request for $100,000 to hire attorney Fred Woocher was put on hold while the council goes through the motions of trying to resolve a dispute that can only be settled through ballot measure clarifying the City Charter -- a course the council rejected a month ago -- or through a judicial determination.

Clearly disgusted at the inaction despite her plea directly to the council, Chick might seek funds privately to go to court to defend her office's right to conduct "performance" audits of other elected officials activities, specifically how the City Attorney's office has handled costly worker compensation cases.

"I'm being sued by the city, I'm being sued by you," Chick told the council, accusing the City Attorney's office of  "a blatant and obvious conflict of interest" in fending off her audit attempt by issuing a legal opinion that the Charter only allows the controller to conduct performance audits of city departments, not the activities of elected officials.

"The people of Los Angeles," she said, "want transparency and accountability over their taxpayer dollars no matter where those dollars are housed."

Called back for a second appearance to see if she would back off, a defiant Chick said there was nothing left to talk about: "I will not stand down. I will not ste aside. I will not delay."

It was clear the council did not share her concerns, warning that a controller could use audits to embarrass an opponent and seek politicial advantage. Both Chick and Delgadillo leave office in June and are not seeking another office.

At question is the meaning of the terms "programs" and "performance" in the Charter but the council seemed more interested in what members called the "chicken or the egg issue" -- whether it was Chick or Delgadillo who provoked what amounts to a constitutional crisis.

Councilman Jose Huizar, head of the Audits Committee, said he wasn't sure how this all came about but believed Ed Reyes "hit the nail on the head" with his suggestion the council decide what the words in the Charter mean -- a sentiment that was quickly endorsed by everyone except Wendy Greuel who hopes to succeed Chick as Controller.

The vote was 11-1 to delay a decision on the $100,000, issue the "stand-down" plea and seek again to mediate the dispute with wannabe City Attorney Jack Weiss again skipping a vote of importance, one that might give insight into what he might do if he were the city's top legal officer.

All in all, the council once again displayed its proclivity to avoid decisions on contentious issues like elephants, public access television and others that might lead to public criticism.

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