Los Angeles: Musical Chairs at City Hall

LA WATCHDOG--It has been over a year since Miguel Santana announced that he was resigning as the City Administrative Officer to become the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Los Angeles County Fair Association.  And despite the call for a nationwide search for the most important job in the City of Los Angeles, we still do not have a permanent City Administrative Officer which makes you wonder why.


Will Mayor Garcetti choose a close political ally or a staff member whose judgments may be compromised?  Or will he pick a Caspar Milquetoast who is afraid to rock the boat with opinions that run contrary to the political winds.  Or will they hire an “independent candidate with the astute knowledge, leadership, and vision to advise the City’s policymakers?” 

The City Administrative Officer is the City’s Chief Financial Officer.  The CAO is responsible for developing and monitoring the City’s budget and advising City Hall on short term and long term financial policies.  The CAO is also charged with overseeing the City’s operations to determine whether the individual departments are operating efficiently and within the parameters of the already strained budget.  The CAO is also City’s chief labor negotiator, an especially tricky job given the City’s Structural Deficit and the political swat of the campaign funding leadership of the City’s public unions. 

Importantly, the CAO must have the trust of the Mayor, the City Council, the media, the Neighborhood Councils, and the public at large.  This requires the CAO to run transparent organization that provides an independent analysis of the City’s budget and its operations. 

The Interim CAO is 61 year old Rich Llewellyn, whose appointment expires on February 1, 2018.  But there are questions as to his independence given his long term affiliation with Mayor Eric Garcetti and his father.  This has caused concern with members of the City Council which has called for a nationwide search.  

The Garcetti connection is also problematic as Garcetti has been unwilling to make the tough decisions to eliminate the Structural Deficit while at the same time devote resources to fix our failed streets and the rest of our deteriorating infrastructure.  Interestingly, many City Hall insiders and observers believe that former City Council President and now Mayor Garcetti is the person most responsible for the City’s continuing budget woes. 

Matt Szabo, the Mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff, is also rumored to be a candidate for the CAO position. While Szabo, an 18 year City Hall veteran, is familiar with the City’s budget and finances because of his role as the Mayor’s budget director, there are the issues of independence and, like Llewellyn, the lack of hands on operating and managerial experience.  

Garcetti also needs to appoint a new General Manager for the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System, the $16 billion pension plan for the City’s 44,000 active and retired civilian employees that is underfunded by almost $6 billion (73% funded).  While the City has launched a search for a new General Manager who has experience in “directing health retirement operations and/or directing the operation and management of an institutional investment portfolio,” it is now in the position where it needs to appoint an Interim General Manager to replace the now retired General Manager. 

While LACERS is a small department with less than 150 positions and only a $28 million budget, the City’s annual pension contribution exceeds $500 million and is expected to increase significantly in the future.    

One of the rumors circulating City Hall is that Garcetti will appoint Szabo to be the LACERS General Manager if Llewellyn is selected to be the City Administrative Officer.  Alternatively, Llewellyn will be appointed to the LACERS job if he is not selected to be the CAO.  

Yet in both cases, Llewellyn and Szabo are not qualified for either job since they lack the necessary experience and are too closely aligned with the fiscally irresponsible Garcetti. 

These two positions are too important to be given to political cronies who lack the qualifications outlined in the job descriptions prepared by the City.  Nor do they have the necessary independence to provide unbiased information to the City Council, the media, the Neighborhood Councils, and the public.  

Now is the time to follow up on the recommendations of the City Council to conduct a national search to find qualified individuals for these two very important positions. 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)