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Wendy Greuel versus the little newspaper from Cerritos

Mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel has become the target of a community newspaper in Cerritos.
Mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel has become the target of a community newspaper in Cerritos.
Grant Slater/KPCC

One of the interesting aspects of this year’s race for Los Angeles mayor is the interplay between City Controller Wendy Greuel and the Los Cerritos Community News.

In its latest story on Greuel, the online paper — which has a weekly print edition — lambasts the L.A. City Controller for waiting to release her official e-mails until after the March 5 primary election. The paper has accused Greuel of using government e-mail accounts for political purposes.

“Wendy Greuel is not above the law, and cannot hide from members of the media,” publisher Brian Hews said in a statement published on the LCCN website.  Hews, whose family once owned the Los Angeles Wave newspapers, takes pride in commenting on his own stories.

“I just think it gives it a little more umph when the publisher is in there.”

The paper's primary coverage area does not include Los Angeles, but Hews says many of its readers work in the city.

The LCCN said it submitted a Public Records Act request to the city controller’s office on Jan. 21, asking for all e-mail communications between Greuel, her staff, two campaign consultants, and Brian D’Arcy, the head of the powerful labor union that represents Department of Water and Power workers. The DWP union’s political arm has spent more than $750,000 trying to get Greuel elected, and is expected to spend more.

Under the Public Records Act, government officials have 24 days to provide the requested information if it is not legally protected (such as personnel records).  Greuel’s office said it could not respond to the request until mid-March.

“We work to respond to every Public Records Act that comes in,” controller spokeswoman Claire Bartels said. “Where there’s a voluminous amount of information to review, it takes some time.”

Public agencies routinely take longer than the 24 days to respond to public records requests.

“If they are trying to pull it together and respond, and it is a big response, there is not a whole lot you can do,” First Amendment Coalition Executive Director Peter Scheer said.  “A court would not order them to work faster or harder, except in very egregious cases.”

The LCCN – staffed by Hews, a reporter, a salesman and a producer – is having none of it.

“This is very strange behavior from someone who claims to run a tight ship,” Hews said online.  “She claims to be the city’s chief auditor, but a review of her record shows she’s really just L.A.’s chief campaigner.”

Earlier, the LCCN obtained records of Greuel’s schedule that the paper said was evidence Greuel's controller's office staff illegally worked on her political campaign on city time. Greuel said they were off the city clock at the time.

The Greuel campaign also hit back at the newspaper by obtaining and releasing the arrest record of the reporter who did the story.

“It was the lowest of the low,” Hews said. 

"This was a split-second decision that turned out to be an error on our part,” Greuel spokesman Dave Jacobson said.  “Distributing materials highlighting someone’s substance abuse was a mistake."  It's worth noting it takes more than a split second to obtain and distribute an arrest record.

Hews said he has no agenda aimed at Greuel, and plans similar reporting on her chief rival for mayor, City Councilman Eric Garcetti. “I’m an equal opportunity basher, so to speak.”

The paper, which prints 58,000 copies a week and has 18,000 unique web visitors a month, broke the first story about possible corruption inside the L.A. County Assessor’s office, Hews said.  On its homepage, District Attorney Steve Cooley is quoted as saying: “Your publication gave us information that was invaluable – great job!”

If nothing else, the newspaper is providing fodder for Greuel’s opponents.  Outside City Hall Wednesday, rival Kevin James suggested something was fishy at the controller's office.

“What do they have to hide?” James asked. “Wendy has not been honest and transparent as our City Controller.  We can’t trust her to be an honest Mayor.” 

The Greuel campaign responded with a statement from chief strategist John Shallman: "Kevin James' campaign is bankrupt. He's out of money and out of ideas so he's recycling old attacks that have no basis in reality."


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