Southern California

February 26, 2010 | 1:06 pm

A long awaited audit released by Los Angeles County officials found that the Board of Supervisors often use behind-the-scenes levers to control the inner workings of the Regional Planning Department, whose decisions are key to hotly contested battles over development, environmental protections and code enforcement.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s planning deputy, Ben Saltsman, and Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s planning deputy, Paul Novak, fought vigorously behind the scenes during the development of a Green Building ordinance, issuing e-mails to department staffers that “could be interpreted as violating” county rules against supervisors’ directives outside the public meeting process, according to the report, which was obtained by The Times.

Supervisor Gloria Molina’s planning deputy, Nicole Englund, hand-picked department staffers to go to professional conferences in Las Vegas and San Francisco despite former Director Bruce McClendon’s claim that he told her that they were not qualified to go with all expenses paid and that their attendance would amount to a “junket.” In addition, investigators determined that Englund had ordered the department to fund the trips with federal anti-poverty money despite program rules that “could lead to the conclusion that travel and training are ineligible expenses,” the report said.

And former Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke’s planning deputy, Mike Bohlke, pressured department staffers to increase their recommended cap for the number of wells eligible for drilling in the Inglewood oil fields before it reached the supervisors for a vote in public. When the staffers suggested more community input first, he wrote “Enough is Enough … !!!!!” in an e-mail to top department officials, the report said.

The audit was initiated after the firing of McClendon as regional planning director in January 2009. McClendon had received a positive job evaluation several months before, and said he was fired for blowing the whistle of the supervisors’ activities to Chief Executive William T. Fujioka and for enforcing rules against supervisor’s intrusions behind the scenes.

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