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EDITORIAL CONTRACTING GARBAGE CARSON'S BFI DEAL OUGHT TO RAISE RED FLAGS IN L.A.

UNLIKE their counterparts in Carson, officials in Los Angeles city government know a thing or two about keeping their corruption discreet.

Here, elected officials won't nakedly ask for cash bribes in exchange for steering lucrative contracts to an undeserving bidder. The process is more subtle. It's communicated through winks, nods, implicit agreements, political campaign money.

Plausible deniability is the unwritten rule of the game.

Carson - which has just seen several of its current and past elected officials get indicted on federal bribery charges - has much to learn from the metropolis to the north.

But some of the players are the same.

Carson Mayor Daryl Wesley Sweeney, who was arrested last week, is the chief of staff for L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry. And the executives accused of making hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to Carson leaders were from none other than Browning Ferris Industries, which was angling for a $60 million contract.

BFI, of course, is the trash-hauling giant that operates the city-owned Sunshine Canyon Landfill in Granada Hills - another product of shady government contracting.

To its credit, BFI had already terminated all of its employees who have been charged in conjunction with the Carson scandal. It also has fully cooperated with federal officials, which is why the Justice Department is not filing any charges against the company.

Still, this isn't the first time BFI or its employees have been caught up in unseemly or unethical deals, and the bribes and corruption in Carson should cause plenty of concern here in L.A.

The extremes to which BFI executives went to get the Carson contract suggest an intense corporate pressure to perform, a pressure that clearly can drive some employees - and tempt some politicians - to play outside the rules.

How has that pressure affected some of the company's more questionable operations in Los Angeles?

That would be a question for some ethical watchdog to look into - if only L.A. had one. It's never been explained why the City Council rushed into voting to reopen Sunshine Canyon without conducting any serious study of alternatives, engaging in a debate on trash policy or recycling trash from businesses or apartment dwellers.

We're not suggesting any corruption of the sort that took place in Carson. That's small-town stuff, the work of rank amateurs in the big business of special-interest public contracting.

Things work differently here. Investigators probably would not be able to find a single quid pro quo, just a web of campaign contributions, personal partnerships and political alliances, bloated contracts and back- room shenanigans.

And Sunshine Canyon would be only the beginning. In the vast apparatus of L.A. city government, the wink, the nod and the payoff are the foundation of all public policy.

It's not any more honest than in Carson, just neater.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 26, 2002
Words:466
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