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Keith Comrie

Title: City administrative officer, city of Los Angeles

Born: Schenectady N.Y., 1939

Education: B.S. in accounting and master's in public administration, both from USC

Most Admired Person: His mother, who fought to give her son an education and battled multiple sclerosis for 10 years

Turning Point in Career: While working as a sales rep and attending night school at USC, a friend prompted him to check out career options in local government

Personal: Married, two grown children

By HOWARD FINE

Staff Reporter

For decades, Los Angeles City Administrative Officer Keith Comrie has been a fixture at City Hall, serving under three mayors and three full rotations of the City Council. But he was virtually unknown outside of local government circles until last month when he publicly blasted Mayor Richard Riordan and the Elected Charter Reform Commission for their proposals to put the budget analysis authority of his office under the mayor's office and give the mayor the power to fire city managers without council approval.

Comrie went on the offensive, writing letters to both charter reform commissions and local media, saying these proposals would bring financial mismanagement and corruption. Furthermore, he said they could put L.A. on the same path that led New York City to bankruptcy in the 1970s. After going public, Comrie said he received several calls of thanks from fellow city bureaucrats. As of late last week, the elected charter reform commission had not made any final decisions on the proposals.

Comrie also announced he would temporarily postpone his retirement, which was to have taken place in January, until the issues are resolved.

Comrie, 59, first came to L.A. City Hall in 1963 as an aide to then-Chief Administrative Officer Erwin Piper. In 1969, he left the city to direct the county's welfare system, a post he held until 1979, when he returned to the city to succeed Piper as the city's administrative officer.

Question: You've been in local government for the last 35 years. What's right with it and what's wrong?

Answer: Well, try bribing your building inspector in L.A. That is still the practice in many Eastern cities in this country and in many countries throughout the world, but it won't work in L.A.

City employees here have a reputation for being honest. People here tend to take honesty for granted. But honesty is essential. How many times have we heard about buildings collapsing in other places because the building codes that were on paper weren't enforced? You haven't seen that happen here.

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