by Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News
07/07/2010 08:10:34 PM PDT -- The Los Angeles Unified school board has appointed a retired district lawyer as interim inspector general, responsible for overseeing investigations related to fraud, waste and abuse.
Jess Womack of Sherman Oaks served as Los Angeles Unified's interim and deputy general counsel before his retirement in June 2008. He succeeds Inspector General Jerry Thornton, whose contract expired June 30.
School board members said they plan to conduct a nationwide search for a permanent replacement for Thornton.
"I think Thornton provided incredibly high quality service to the district and the fact that we chose to move in a different direction for me was not a reflection of the quality of his work," said Steve Zimmer, LAUSD school board member.
Thornton was a retired FBI agent who was appointed as inspector general in 2006.
Last year Thornton publicly criticized LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines when the schools chief proposed deep budget cuts to the Office of Inspector General. He also ruffled feathers for releasing critical audits, giving little advance notice to board members, some district sources said.
Thornton was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Under Thornton, LAUSD uncovered several cases of waste, such as the district's excessive use of consultants, and fraud, including an investigation into a West Valley charter school that is now being investigated by the Los Angeles District Attorney for embezzlement and misuse of public funds.
Before his current post Womack served as an associate general counsel in the district's facilities program managing the lawyers that are focused on handling LAUSD's $18 billion voter-approved bond construction program.
School board member Tamar Galatzan said Womack was a "good guy" but she said she believed that a nationwide search to find a full-time replacement for Thornton was under way.
"It is critical to find someone good," Galatzan said.