CityWatch, May6, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 36
Amir Sedadi, Interim General Manager of LA’s Department of Transportation, demonstrated that the honeymoon is over as he took his turn before the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee during the ongoing Budget Hearings.
The gloves came off at “Hello!” as Sedadi greeted the Committee by pointing out the late hour, revealing a perceived slight based on his 7pm position on the agenda.
He then took the Committee on a journey of his departmental headcount losses over the last couple of years but neglected to offer up any accountability for his performance and for the performance of his department. This was a huge shortcoming.
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee reviewed Sedadi’s performance during the
Budget Hearings, finding fault with his creative staffing and budget solutions and taking him to task for moving Measure R funds from the intended infrastructure projects and using them for staffing. Chairman Parks clarified by saying “Measure R funds projects, not people.”
Councilman Smith offered his analysis, digging a little deeper and pointing out that the LADOT paid part-time crossing guards $2.2 million in bonuses on top of $5 million in salaries, causing LADOT staff to scramble for answers, finally resulting in Sedadi explaining “We did it because some of the staff worked weekends and evenings.” Smith called it “Shocking.”
Sedadi’s high point during his reign was the approval of LA’s Bike Plan and Councilman Rosendahl gave him bragging room with questions about the LADOT Bikeways Department and the implementation of the Bike Plan.
Sedadi pointed out that the Bikeways Department was fully staffed with seven engineers, two project coordinators, four paid interns and four unpaid interns. He spoke glowingly of the support of the community and the partnership between the Department and the public.
If only it were true. If only there were any results to show for the staffing commitment.
From LA Streetsblog to members of the Bike Plan Implementation Team, the criticism from the public and from the media is that the LADOT staff have failed to implement any of the Bike Plan projects and that they continue to show up for meetings unprepared and unwilling to move forward.
Prior to the Budget hearings, City Controller Wendy Greuel had taken Sedadi and the LADOT to task for failing to collect an estimated $15 million in unpaid parking tickets from "scofflaws," or frequent law violators.
Demonstrating leadership skills that cry for evaluation, Sedadi had explained that the LADOT’s centralized unit for scofflaw enforcement has been disbanded because of budget cuts.
This short sighted budget solution resulted in long term revenue losses that could have gone a long way to delivering city services to the people of Los Angeles.
NBC4 has also been critical of Sedadi’s leadership, offering up news that two LADOT employees had participated in shooting a porn while on duty, in uniform, and in a city vehicle.
Most damning is the fact that LADOT management knew of the incident for more than two months in advance of the NBC4 broadcast but failed to initiate action until confronted by the press.
Adding to the well-rounded criticism of Sedadi’s performance came a whistleblower’s call to Greuel’s office that exposed the LADOT’s $2.5 million overpayment on an old contract while leased gear sat in storage accruing charges. Sedadi blamed old management from 2006, failing to mention that he was Assistant GM for four years and either missed the overpayment or failed to act on it.
Amir Sedadi first began working for the City of LA in 1990 and has served in several positions, including as Assistant Deputy Director of Transportation in the Mayor’s office and as the LADOT’s Liaison to the Mayor and City Council. He knows his way around City Hall.
Sedadi took over the reins of the LADOT six months ago, a role he prepared for by serving as the heir apparent to Rita Robinson, the City Hall veteran who capped her 35-year career with a tour of duty at the helm of the Department of Transportation.
When Robinson announced her retirement, transportation advocates from around the city expressed hope that the Mayor would engage in a worldwide search for a leader in transportation innovations and active transportation, one capable of serving as a "change agent."
Common wisdom from the streets held that a promotion from within would result in “more of the same” while hiring from outside would represent a Mayoral commitment to Complete Streets and multi-modal transportation.
Informal surveys advanced candidates such as Long Beach’s Sumi Gant, San Francisco’s Tim Papandreou, Bogota’s Gil Peñalosa, New York’s Janette Sadik-Kahn, and Copenhagen’s Jan Gehl, resulting in a petition generated by Streetsblog that called for a “Game Changer” at the helm of the LADOT.
While Sedadi’s performance as the leader of LA’s Department of Transportation falls far short of minimal acceptable standards, the real call for accountability belongs to the mayor and his staff, past and present.
As the Mayor coasts into the sunset, as former First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner embarks on his mayoral campaign, and as Deputy Mayor Jaime de la Vega steers $40 billion in Measure R funding down the pike, Sedadi’s failure to perform calls into question any notion of accountability at City Hall.
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net. )