'How many people can you house for $1.2 million?'

"How many people can you house for $1.2 million?" asked Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, in an L.A. Times story today that reveals departed L.A. Housing Authority CEO Rudolf Montiel took exactly that much with him on his way out.

Montiel didn’t quit — he was fired after a controversy involving the eviction of tenants who had been protesting outside his house. But Montiel said his firing was in retaliation for publicly asking board members to repay the authority for thousands of dollars in travel and other expenses.

The $1.2 million payout was part of a deal reached after Montiel asked the city for $5 million, accusing the housing authority board of libeling him by disparaging him in public. Montiel’s lawyer said he was contractually owed 18 months of pay. The president of the board told the Times insurance would largely cover the pay out, and it was necessary to “eliminate legal liability” and move forward.

The $1.2 million revelation isn’t the housing authority’s only recent bad press. KCET’s SoCal Connected ran a report last week with painful details about extravagant spending on meals and travel by the agency.

Based on six years of expense reports during Montiel’s administration, KCET found expenses like these: Since 2008, housing authority employees have had over $14,000 in lunches at Harold and Belle’s in South L.A. The agency spent $300,000 in 2009 and 2010 on travel — a 300 percent increase from 2006. The agency’s current CEO Ken Simmons, who himself spent thousands for lunch at Drago Centro and personally approved many of the other purchases, says the freewheeling big spending days are over. He blamed Montiel’s administration, and said employees who spent the money were only following the direction of their superiors.

“My explanation,” he told KCET, “is as the head of the agency, that we don’t do any of those things, by my direction.”

City Controller Wendy Gruell has been auditing the agency, and promised a more thorough audit.

Read more about the expenses and watch Simmons' explanation at KCET. Also, take a look at the expenses on your own in this database KCET created.