By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News
17 April 2010 -- Los Angeles Unified officials have reassigned two employees, while two others resigned this week, after an internal review found possible conflicts of interest with the hiring of some 300 construction consultants.
LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines announced that he was asking for the immediate reassignment of two unnamed district facility employees after an internal review found that out of more than 2,000 contract hirings over the last eight years, 15 percent needed to be probed further for potential conflicts.
The review follows the recent indictment of Bassam Raslan, a senior facilities executive who was charged by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office with nine conflict-of-interest charges for allegedly using his district position to hire employees from a company he also runs.
The district has also asked City Controller Wendy Greuel to audit the facilities department that manages LAUSD's $20 billion bond construction program to build more than 180 schools.
"One of the best programs in this district is its new schools program and I want to do everything possible to protect the image of what's been done," Cortines said.
Cortines said that he called for the reassignment of two district facilities employees who oversee facilities hiring processes to positions that do not involve personnel matters. Their names were not released. "We will take further action as appropriate," he added.
Raslan was scheduled to be arraigned Friday, but that was continued until April 29, officials at the District Attorney's Office said.
District officials said cases of potential conflicts of interest occurred four to eight years ago. They said at least two facilities executives involved with the hiring of contract professionals resigned this week and an executive's contract was not renewed earlier this month.
Senior facilities executive Don O'Neill, who has been employed with the district since April of 2008 and then previously from 2000 through 2004, turned in his resignation this week. Also Rick Hijazi, a senior project manager, tendered his resignation. Hijazi was a co-owner with Raslan of TBI Associates, which supplied the district with contract employees.
Hijazi was unreachable for comment.
O'Neill said he is leaving to pursue a job opportunity in South Carolina, where he has a permanent home.
"I started this process eight years ago ... It is just unfortunate that my resignation comes when all these other things are happening in the district," O'Neill said.
LAUSD board member Yolie Flores said she is very concerned about what has been going on at the district's facilities division.
"We want to keep the level of trust from the public ... given that they have been so generous with us and passed every bond we asked for," Flores said.
"We owe it to them be as public and transparent as we can be."
Connie Oser, a spokeswoman for Teamsters Local 527, said she thought the district could eliminate conflicts if it stopped its frequent use of contract professionals in the facilities department.
The Teamsters has argued that many of its 3,500 district employee members could be doing the jobs of the contract professionals.
"The problem lies in that consultants are beholden to their own firms and billable hours are their motivation where district employees report to the public," Oser said.