The New Stimulus Watcher

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She said it with what sounded like a sigh of resignation: Laura Chick is finally getting a BlackBerry.

Maybe that's one way of explaining how much things are changing for the former Los Angeles city controller, who's ending her first week in Sacramento as the state's new 'inspector general for federal stimulus funds'. Or something like that.

Maybe job #1 should be fixing that clunky title.

Chick is still unpacking the boxes in her new office across the street from the state Capitol (inside the governor's Office of Planning & Research). She says while she doesn't plan on selling her home in LA, she nonetheless expects to be living mostly in Sacramento.

And there's not much time to settle in. Next week, she heads to Washington to meet with President Barack Obama's point-man on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as well as inspectors general from many of the agencies sending cash to California. Tops on her list: understanding what's expected.

"The regulations keep on coming," she said in an interview earlier this week (look for a quick story tomorrow morning on The California Report). "Everyone is interested in getting their hands on some of that money," she said, "and most no one understands what are the guidelines."

From there, the new inspector general says she plans to launch a statewide PR blitz to make it clear what will -- and won't -- be acceptable.

Some of that effort, she says, will be making sure local officials and those in nonprofits understand what she calls "the do's and don'ts" of spending all of this federal money.

"I'll give you an example," she said. "You're thinking of awarding a contract to your nephew? Not."

As for the fact that California has so many watchers lined up to keep tabs on the process, Chick says she plans to work hard to keep things from being duplicative.

"The worst thing we could do, in my opinion, is be bumping into each other," she said. "My goal is to divvy it up."

Chick was appointed to the post by Governor Schwarzenegger, which leads one to wonder whether she's independent... or part of his administration. She says it's the former, though she's agreed that when she finds things the public needs to know, she'll take them first to the guv.

And she's got a few ideas of her own about how to use some of the federal one-time dollars on one-time things. Chick mentioned projects like maintenance pon state buildings that's been put off in all the bad budget years.

"Much of that deferred maintenance could be making those buildings much more energy efficient," she said. "To me, that's maybe filling mulitple goals."

Such ideas don't necessarily seem like the purview of a traditional inspector general. But Chick doesn't seem to be very traditional in the first place... and the stimulus' very existence proves these aren't traditional times.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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