L.A. mayor bulks up the office

Rick Orlov and Kevin Modesti
LA Daily News
Aug 7, 2010

In the five years since he became mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa has expanded his office's staff to 206 people - including deputy mayors and managers, assistants and analysts - in moves his aides say are needed to deal with the city's complex problems.

It has grown to be the largest mayoral staff in Los Angeles history, dwarfing that of former Mayor James Hahn, who had 121 employees, and former Mayor Richard Riordan, with 114.

Staff salaries account for $7.4 million of the $25.02 million budget for the Mayor's Office.

"This is a mayor with big ideas and a big agenda," said Jeff Carr, chief of staff to Villaraigosa. "He has taken on issues no other mayor would touch, from gangs to public education to transportation.

"If you look at our staffing, the heaviest concentration is in public safety - including gangs - and business development."

Carr said the mayor has no plans to reduce his staff - particularly anti-gang efforts - by shifting responsibility to another agency.

"As long as he is mayor, it will remain in this office," said Carr, who oversaw the city's anti-gang effort before becoming chief of staff.

The growth of the Mayor's Office comes at a time when the city is looking to lay off workers - possibly as many as 1,700 this year - and when he has asked employees to take pay cuts.

Villaraigosa has reduced his own salary by 16 percent over the past two years to its current $231,535. Also, members of his staff are required to take furlough days that work out to a 7 percent reduction in pay.

Most staff salaries are in a range from $50,000 to $200,000. A few people called on by the mayor to help with economic development issues are paid a nominal $1 a year, among them Austin Beutner, first deputy mayor for economic and business policy.

Whether Villaraigosa's staff is larger or smaller than normal for a major city is hard to say, because staff sizes vary widely, not always in proportion to city sizes.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has 441 employees on his staff, according to his website, and a budget of $30.5 million. The website does not provide a breakdown of assignments, but Bloomberg's office deals with both education and health issues.

Budget documents for Chicago show Mayor Richard Daley with 68 people assigned to his office and an overall budget of $5.88 million.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has 48 employees supported by a $27.6 million budget for the past year.

Los Angeles is the nation's second most populous city, with 3.8 million residents - 2.5 percent more than when Hahn replaced Riordan in 2001. New York is No. 1 with 8.4 million, Chicago No. 3 with 2.9 million, San Francisco is No. 12 with 815,000.

So Villaraigosa's office has 53.8 employees per million residents. That ratio is similar to New York's (52.6) and San Francisco's (58.9) but higher than Chicago's (23.8).

Differences depend in part on the varying responsibilities of mayors.

In New York and Chicago, the mayors are also responsible for their school systems, which inflates the size of the staff. San Francisco has a city-county system that includes public health and welfare programs.

In Los Angeles, the mayor asked for and was given responsibility by the City Council over the anti-gang programs, which resulted in the addition of 37 people to his staff. Some of those were transferred from other city departments.

The mayor's $25.02 million budget is down from last year's $25.7 million but reflects a dramatic increase from 2008 to 2009, when it went from $9 million to $25 million as the mayor absorbed the anti-gang program as well as the departments of Environmental Affairs and Human Services.

The two agencies were eliminated as separate departments in an overall budget-cutting move.

Villaraigosa has made public safety his top issue since taking office and it is reflected in his staff roster.

In addition to the anti-gang programs, he has 26 people assigned to Homeland Security and Public Safety, with 19 of those working on grants and financial management issues.

Thirty-eight people are assigned to economic development issues, including the mayor's Business Team and the Minority Business Opportunity Center.

Twenty-three staff members are assigned to neighborhood affairs, including the Neighbohood Councils and field deputies assigned to different regions.

Villaraigosa has 16 staff members assigned to lobbying in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento and several other divisions dealing with schools, transportation, energy and the environment and budget, and finance issues.

In all, the mayor's staff has 10 people with "deputy mayor" in their titles. An office telephone list dated in July showed 23 people with "manager" in their titles and 46 with "director" - including four managing directors. Also on the staff roster are 24 people with "assistant" in their titles, and 22 people described as analysts.

More than 40 employees might be described as the mayor's personal staff, with responsibilities for administration, counsel, scheduling and communications.

Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, said the growth of staffs seems to be a natural progression.

"The impression you always have is that staffs are growing," Stern said. "They all make the point that there are new demands, but the question becomes if the staffs are sacrificing as much as others departments."

Raphael Sonenshein, a California State University, Fullerton political science professor who was executive director of the Appointed Charter Commission, said part of the growth is due to voter-approved changes in the city charter.

"The charter gave the mayor more specific duties in making policy decisions and working on the budget," Sonenshein said. "Also, the Mayor's Office tends to be a place where they nurture new programs until they are ready to go off on their own or be in other departments. That's what (former Mayor Tom) Bradley did with programs that were just developing."