Faced With Tight Transition, Mayor-Elect Bass Invites Garcetti Staff To Stay On Through April

Karen Bass


-- Mayor-elect Karen Bass has invited all staffers in Mayor Eric Garcetti's office to remain in their jobs through April, according to a letter sent last week — an atypical move intended to steady the ship amid an unusually short transition period.

Incoming mayors regularly retain some staff from the previous administration, particularly during the first months of their administration, even as they appoint new deputy mayors and consider which general managers to keep around. But extending a blanket offer is unusual.

Though deputy mayors and other senior staffers were included in the invitation, Bass spokesperson Zach Seidl said the incoming mayor will probably fill many of those high-level positions with her own people well before April. He added that Bass is expected to name her chief of staff imminently, with some other senior names to follow.

"To maintain stability in city government during this unprecedented three-week transition, the mayor-elect has asked staff to be available to continue working to ensure vital services continue," Seidl said.

Bass faces a tighter timeline than her two most recent predecessors, who both knew voting results shortly after the polls closed and took office about six weeks later. But Bass' race wasn't called until eight days after the election, with her set to take office about 3½ weeks after that.

The shorter window is an unintended byproduct of shifting voting methods: Angelenos have increasingly utilized mail-in ballots in recent years, which take longer to process and count.

The mayor-elect's term officially begins on Dec. 12, though Bass might be sworn in on Dec. 11.

“I am extending an opportunity for continued employment up to April 22, 2023, to all active employees currently serving in the mayor's office. This employment will be exempt and at-will, and the mayor's office retains the right to terminate the employment of any individual at any time," Bass wrote in the Nov. 22 letter, adding that current employees could interview for permanent jobs during the transition period.

Bass' memo to staffers was accompanied by a lengthy letter from Garcetti, who effusively praised the incoming mayor and called her decision to offer the four-month employment buffer a reflection of her values as someone "who recognizes the good work of other public servants."

Garcetti also thanked Bass for "assuring employees and their families that they will be able to pay their bills, use their healthcare, and have a shot at continuing their careers just before the holidays."

The two-term outgoing mayor declined to weigh in during this year's mayoral contest, but he appeared to offer a retroactive endorsement of Bass in his letter, saying he was "filled with great joy, optimism, and relief" when the election was called for Bass.

"I can confess now that about 11 years ago I encouraged Karen to run for mayor in the 2013 election. ... And when she said she wasn't going to run, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and, well, as they say, the rest is history," Garcetti wrote, nodding to his own election as mayor that year.

Multiple city officials said there was a good deal of anxiety about the short time between this year's election and the inauguration. The mayor’s office has prepared briefings for Bass covering topics including advocacy priorities and basic processes, such as how the mayor signs a motion when it’s been transmitted from the City Council.

"It is very common in my experience that some members of the outgoing team stay with the new team," said retired city official Rich Llewellyn, who served as Garcetti's transition director in 2013. Llewellyn characterized the blanket offer of continued — albeit temporary — employment to all staffers as a bit unusual, but he said he thought it could be an advantageous move, providing more continuity as Bass builds her team.

"The philosophies of the staffs are usually not dramatically different" because the office is ostensibly a nonpartisan position largely held by Democrats, Llewellyn said.

But Bass’ letter could also signal to critics that she’s open to continuing city policies — at least in the short term — carried out by Garcetti, potentially frustrating activists who want immediate changes when it comes to homelessness or transportation.

Deputy mayors are particularly visible roles, serving as a public face for the administration at events and, in some cases, acting as a liaison with city unions.

The most recent public staff list for Garcetti’s office lists seven deputy mayors, including Jose “Che” Ramirez, who works on homeless policies. Over the last year, several longtime Garcetti deputy mayors left, including Jeff Gorell, former deputy mayor for public safety, and Nina Hachigian, formerly deputy mayor for international affairs.

One senior Garcetti official who received the letter but declined to be named said several top staffers were interviewing or had jobs lined up and didn’t expect to stay. This person added that the invitation from Bass was a relief for lower-level officials.

“It was reassuring for mid-level or junior staff,“ the official said. “They would be smart to do it. There’s a lot of institutional knowledge and it’s a very short transition period.”

Bass, who officially declared victory a little less than two weeks ago, has been relatively reticent about her transition plans. Bass campaign manager Jenny Delwood has been one of the point people on the transition effort, along with campaign policy director Joey Freeman, according to several people with knowledge of the situation. But the mayor-elect has yet to publicly announce any members of her transition team.

Those transition team announcements will come this week and a public jobs portal will also be released shortly, according to Seidl.

Garcetti and former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa both took office prior to a shift in the city's election calendar, with their elections held in late May before taking office on July 1.

Garcetti publicly announced Llewellyn as his transition director about 10 days after being elected and about a month before taking office in 2013. He eschewed a high-profile transition committee in favor of working with Llewellyn and a small team of trusted volunteers, gathering around town for a “back-to-basics” listening tour.

Eight years before, Villaraigosa took a very different tack. Nine days after declaring victory in 2005, he announced an 81-member transition team stacked with local power brokers to build his new administration.

But Villaraigosa's predecessor, Mayor James K. Hahn, faced a similarly tight turnaround in 2001 — he took office less than a month after being elected, thanks to a June election schedule that year. Hahn named his transition director and incoming chief of staff in the days immediately following his election.

Bass has repeatedly said she will declare a state of emergency on homelessness on her first day in office and previously identified large homeless encampments as her initial focus.

Since declaring victory, Bass has also been meeting with members of the City Council "to make sure that the city is ready to move on Day 1 on her top priorities of moving unhoused Angelenos inside immediately and making Los Angeles safer and more affordable," Seidl said.

Times staff writers James Rainey and Dakota Smith contributed to this report.