The Los Angeles City Council Wednesday unanimously confirmed Mayor Eric Garcetti’s appointment of his deputy chief of staff, Matt Szabo, to replace Richard Llewellyn as city administrative officer.
Szabo, whose appointment becomes effective July 4, will report to the mayor and City Council and be responsible for overseeing the city homelessness coordinator, negotiating labor agreements, working to use tax dollars efficiently and solving budget problems as they arise throughout the fiscal year.
According to Garcetti’s office, Szabo is well positioned for the role due in part to his experience helping the city navigate the 2008 recession and his leadership as the city recovered from its budget crisis. He also helped mediate the Los Angeles Unified School District teachers strike in 2018.
Before the City Council vote, Szabo told council members his first priority as CAO would be to implement the city’s “extraordinary budget that was just passed.” The city’s $11.2 billion 2021-22 fiscal year spending plan, which was proposed by Garcetti and approved unanimously by the council, includes historic spending to combat the homelessness crisis.
“Because so many of the programs in the adopted budget are new … there’s going to be some urgency to move things quickly. We do not want to allow bureaucratic delays to prevent the aid needed desperately by members of our community,” Szabo said.
Szabo added that he would also have to set the public’s expectations, as the historic levels of funding in the budget, made possible by the American Rescue Plan, may not be sustainable in future years, and some programs that begin under this budget may not continue.
Other immediate priorities for Szabo include developing a plan for the city’s workforce to safely return to in-person work amid the COVID-19 pandemic and developing a citywide telecommuting policy, which he says “is something that will change the way that work is done in the city forever.”
Szabo also said that he intends to expand the city administrative office’s focus on employee relations, calling that responsibility “perhaps the most important thing that that office is responsible for.”
“When we talk about the city, it’s people, it’s our employees, it is everything that we do,” he said.
Szabo also told council members that he would prioritize coordination with Los Angeles County and city agencies combating the homelessness crisis.
“Housing is the first and foremost consideration. But as we all know, we can’t in the city address homelessness without dealing with the fire department, the primary healthcare provider for unhoused individuals,” he said. “With Public Works who’s responsible for making sure that all these projects move forward. We do need to think about the role of LAPD, what role should LAPD play in dealing with homelessness.”
He said that the CAO is well positioned to support the city in its efforts to address the homelessness crisis, as it plays an important role in project management.
“I do think that there is an opportunity to expand the role,” Szabo said. He added that he would evaluate the office structure, but he expects additional resources are needed for the office to increase its level of response to the crisis. The CAO currently has a homelessness coordinator office with about five employees, Szabo said, out of a total of roughly 100 employees within the CAO office.
Councilman Paul Koretz asked Szabo to have the CAO’s office re-review sites in his district that were proposed for homeless housing but were turned down by the CAO, prompting Councilman Gil Cedillo to ask Szabo if cultural changes should be made within the office “so that we don’t have the scenario where 60 sites are turned down.”
Szabo responded that he would evaluate the office’s structure and make improvements if he finds areas that they need to be made.
When Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Szabo as his choice for CAO on May 5, he said Szabo “knows city government from top to bottom, and he understands how to steer us through our most challenging and complicated economic circumstances. There is simply no one better suited for this job right now than Matt.”
Szabo most recently served as deputy chief of staff to Garcetti and previously served in the position in the administration of former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He also served as deputy mayor for budget and innovation, and in that role was Garcetti’s top budget adviser and oversaw sustainability initiatives.
In the last year, Szabo helped the city through the COVID-19 pandemic and budget crisis by restructuring labor agreements with civilian employees and the police and fire departments. He also played a key role in negotiating nearly 7,000 shelter beds for Angelenos during the pandemic, Garcetti’s office said.
Garcetti noted in his announcement the example set by Llewellyn, who has been the city administrative officer for the last three years. During his tenure, Llewellyn oversaw the production of thousands of new homeless housing units and led the city through a budget crisis to protect jobs and services during the pandemic, Garcetti said.
“Rich is a model public servant and a dear friend. My term as mayor has been better off, and our entire city is better off, because of the man and the leader he is,” he said. “Rich’s time working for the city may be drawing to a close, but I know that his legacy will live on, and I hope every city employee aspires to do this work with his same degree of compassion and commitment. I wish Rich the best in the next chapter of his life.”