Democratic discord continues

Kathleen Connell is at it again.

California’s controller dropped a mini-bomb on the Department of Water Resources (DWR) when she called an impromptu press conference last week to announce that the state won’t pay for $3,661 worth of meals and snacks the department charged in January.

While the figure seems small at first glance, Connell said the meals—including $910 for sushi and $439 for Italian takeout—were charged on a Cal-Card, a state credit card that’s supposed to be used for emergency expenses.

But the department is crying foul.

DWR spokesman Oscar Hildalgo said that the department has become a pawn in a long-running feud between Governor Gray Davis and Connell.

“(Connell) obviously has some issues with the governor’s office, but she’s taking it out on the Department of Water Resources,” Hildalgo said, adding that the department was understaffed so employees couldn’t leave the office for dinner.

The part of the department in question—the California Energy Resources Scheduling Division—is a special unit within the DWR set up by Davis’ executive order in January to buy power. At the time, there were 40 to 60 workers in the special unit. That figure has since grown to 95.

It’s not the first time the Davis and Connell camps have clashed over the DWR. Connell has repeatedly criticized Davis for spending too much on power, and in June and July, after a court order, she tried to release the long-term energy contracts that the DWR negotiated over Davis’ objections.

Connell also held up the paychecks to Davis consultants—and former Clinton spin-doctors—Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani, whom Davis hired on a six-month contract for $30,000 a month. The pair has since left Davis’ counsel.

Lisa Casalegno, a Connell spokeswoman, rejected the claim that the controller is somehow out to get Davis and added that Davis’ staff should know better than to make such an accusation.

“This has nothing to do with politics or the governor,” Casalegno said. “The controller’s job is to audit all claims. If they are not proper claims she wouldn’t be doing her job if she paid them.”

For his part, Davis political adviser Garry South has used his regular faxes to the media to beat up on Connell’s tactics throughout the year, including mocking Connell when she finished last in the Los Angeles mayor’s race.

That Davis and Connell are clashing yet again is no surprise. The relationship between the two got off on the wrong foot in 1995 when, as the newly elected controller, Connell audited the office and found “some of its prior practices were illegal or questionable,” according to the report.

It just so happened that Davis was the previous controller. The report, which concluded the office was in a state of neglect, was highly critical of Davis, who had moved on to become lieutenant governor.