Stephanie Clements

Should the controller be an accountant or have a background in finance? Why or why not? If you are not an accountant why do you think you’ll be able to oversee the books

Ideally, yes, the controller should have an accounting and/or finance background, but current Mr. Galperin has done a commendable job as Controller without an accounting degree, so it’s not essential. The job of the Controller entails much more than accounting. In fact, being a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) only qualifies one for an entry-level job in the City and does not guarantee success.

I have 25+ years of direct City accounting and financial experience including serving as Chief Financial Officer over two city agencies. I’m a public finance expert having performed and managed city accounting-related functions for years, in addition to managing city budgets, participating in audits, improving fiscal transparency, streamlining operations, and overseeing various financial functions. No other Controller candidate comes close to having the direct city accounting and financial experience that I have. This is important because the city is a large complicated bureaucracy that can take years to figure out. 

What was the most important audit that Controller Ron Galperin did for the City?

It’s hard to pick just one as there have been many important audits relating to street sweeping, tree trimming, sidewalk repairs, IT deficiencies, and our antiquated 311 (customer request) system, to name a few. 

But because homelessness is the #1 crisis among many crises, the most important Galperin audits relate to Proposition HHH (the 2016 voter-approved $1.2 billion bond to building 10k housing units for homeless Angelenos). Pursuant to the bond measure, the Controller is mandated to annually audit Prop HHH. These audits have highlighted key Prop HHH problems such as:

  • only 14% of the projects have been completed even though Prop HHH was approved in 2016 (1142 units completed compared to an est. 40k homeless Angelenos who need housing)

  • project costs are steadily increasing – on average about $600k per unit, with one project estimated to cost $837k per unit

  • developers have to cobble together up to 10 funding sources to get a project greenlighted. This complicated funding structure leads to significant delays and added costs

  • the city approval/permit/entitlement process is too lengthy, it involves many different city departments working in silos and must be streamlined to expedite constructi

Are there any programs you feel that should be audited or cut that Galperin didn’t address?

Unfortunately, the Controller’s Office has limited auditing resources and therefore Galperin wasn’t able to effectively and repeatedly address and audit ALL city operations. 

There is a real and concerning uptick in City government corruption, quid pro quo relationships, sole source/no bid contracts, and questionably unethical behavior (such as the secretive Mayor’s Fund where city contractors have been solicited by city employees to contribute to this fund). 

Therefore, I would perform an anti-corruption risk assessment audit to identify risks, employ data analytics, improve transparency, and tighten up internal controls, to help regain the public trust and clean up this city, figuratively! Through this audit, I also want to highlight through data and better connect the dots between campaign contribution data and politicians, and related Council actions. As an example, there is an ongoing quid pro quo relationship between most LA politicians and government unions, who fund their campaigns to win votes and get elected.  We must continue to enhance campaign contribution transparency to fight against the corrupting influence of money in politics.

As Controller, I will also initiate a trash management audit, including our failing recycling system. It’s embarrassing that a world class city like Los Angeles is filled with trash in our public spaces. There is no citywide trash asset management system or strategy, technology is underutilized, and there are too many ‘cooks in the kitchen’ when it comes to trash management. I would audit trash/recycling to identify opportunities to implement a data-driven trash management system to help efficiently and equitably clean up this city, literally! 

As Controller, I also plan to audit and monitor progress of LA’s Green New Deal – a plan that includes aggressive short and long-term goals to tackle our climate crisis. Unfortunately, we may be already falling short of our short-term goals and no one is really tracking this to keep agencies and elected officials accountable. As an example, the Green New Deal included a goal of planting 90,000 trees in 2021, but the city didn’t even come close to meeting that goal. We must ensure this Plan doesn’t just collect dust on a shelf like other city Plans have. 

Do you have any experience in the private sector and what was it? 

Yes, I worked in retail and in restaurants as a teenager and throughout college. These were invaluable experiences. However, since college, I knew I wanted to work for the City of Los Angeles serving my community. That said, I recognize that the LA government must do a better job learning from and partnering with the private sector, and implementing private sector best practices. The city is very behind in terms of technology and efficiencies in comparison with private business. LA government does not have the expertise, specialization or capacity to do it all, and we must better contract with the private sector to provide that expertise and supplement the city’s workforce, especially when there are funding fluctuations. 

Is there anything else you think people should know about you that would make you the best candidate?

I’ve worked for the City for 25+ years – I’m a public finance and all-around City administration expert having worked in six different City Departments in a variety of capacities at various levels of the organization – from entry level to executive positions. I know how the sausage is made and the sausage needs a new recipe! 

My experience is critical because LA government is an incredibly large and complicated bureaucracy; It takes years for an outsider to figure out what the core problems are and we don’t have time for an inexperienced Controller. We need someone like me who can hit the ground running day one.  

I’m also a 3rd-generation Angeleno and a mom of two young adults who are 4th-generation LAUSD graduates. As a city executive, I value family-friendly work cultures and alternative schedules, such as 4-day work weeks and continued telecommuting, when appropriate. 

I’m not a career politician, I have a great city job already. But I’m incredibly frustrated with how this city is being mismanaged and I want to use my knowledge, experience and know-how to help steer this city in a better direction. And I’m willing to stand up to our status quo politicians and special interests who have contributed to the deterioration of Los Angeles. 

What areas of the City budget would you focus on to make spending more effective?

After 25+ years of working for the City, I can tell you definitively that the biggest problem facing the City’s budget is fiscal mismanagement mostly due to the ongoing quid pro quo relationship between our politicians and the government unions (special interests) who fund their campaigns to get votes and win elections. These government unions represent about 45k City employees, most of whom don’t even live in Los Angeles, and not the 4 million Angelenos who pay taxes. As a result, these special interests have immense control over our politicians, who keep approving increase after increase to government salaries, bonuses, benefits and pensions, while city services/programs keep getting cut to free up funding to pay for higher compensation packages. 

Over many years, I’ve experienced this never-ending pattern of higher compensation costs that leads to “crowd out’ of city services, as these unsustainable salary and pension costs require our City leaders to cut city services and programs to free up funding to pay for these raises. 

So even though our city budget has grown from $4.3 billion to $11.5 billion over the last 20 years, we actually don’t have any more city employees working today, but government compensation has exploded. LA has a declining number of options to address these government raises short of raising taxes or reducing services. And that’s exactly what has happened.  After working with the city budget for many years, there’s never enough funding to go around for services, but there seemingly is always enough money for increases to government worker salary raises, benefits, bonuses and pensions. And that’s one of the main reasons why the city has deteriorated. 

The grim reality in which Angelenos find themselves due to this ongoing fiscal mismanagement point to a lack of essential and equitable services, broken sidewalks and neglected streets, a trash and homeless crisis, lack of public restrooms; the deplorable amount of trash on our freeways and public areas, lack of public restrooms and world class amenities, 

As Controller, I want to expose the fiscal mismanagement of our city finances to ensure this city is providing more services, not less. 

What strategies would you employ to ensure wasteful spending doesn’t take place? 

Many politicians declare they will cut wasteful projects and reduce red tape when elected. But those are empty meaningless words because they don’t really understand the underlying reasons why there is waste to begin with. But I do. I already understand first-hand the core reasons why we waste precious tax payer dollars and it is mostly due to: 

1) Serious Technology Deficiencies Our city officials do not adequately invest in technology to modernize City services. We are grossly behind the times and the city must invest more in technology to make us more efficient, effective and importantly, equitable to improve City services and customer service.

2)  Restrictive Civil Service (Hiring) Processes The way the city hires, fires and disciplines its workers is based on an antiquated civil service system, a system that was developed last century but is now obsolete. Civil service rules and regulations handcuff the city from expeditiously hiring the best and brightest from our local communities. The city can’t seem to hire up staff and too much staff time is wasted on civil service regulations. The entire civil service system needs to be blown up and reimagined.

3) Laborious/Cumbersome Contracting Regulations Our contracting processes are incredibly bureaucratic and complicated which restricts newer contractors and small businesses from taking advantage of contracting opportunities. We make it difficult to bid on projects and sole source/no bid contracts have proliferated because the traditional competitive bidding process is too cumbersome. 

4) Excessive Regulations by Politicians – Politicians are short timers and each new politician keeps layering on policy on top of policy without regard of past policies. Everything is so prescriptive and it ties the hands of our Departmental Managers to be flexible and nimble, and impedes their ability to successfully complete their mission.  

As Controller, my focus would be to help strategically address these areas above in order to reduce waste in Los Angeles government.