Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is on the verge of filling one of the most important posts in the city, one with huge influence over how much money is available for police patrols, street repairs, park programs and other basic services.
In recent weeks, Garcetti has narrowed his search for city administrative officer to two people, both with deep ties to his administration: Rich Llewellyn, who has worked as Garcetti's lawyer at City Hall, and Matt Szabo, currently the mayor's deputy chief of staff, according to four officials with knowledge of the decision-making process.
Ian Thompson, spokesman for Councilman Paul Krekorian, said his boss and a handful of other council members are scheduled to interview Llewellyn and Szabo on Wednesday afternoon. Three other officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly, also identified Llewellyn and Szabo as the mayor's top two picks.
Garcetti plans to make his selection by 5 p.m. Wednesday, which has been described by the mayor's staff as the deadline for acting. In the run-up to that announcement, some at City Hall have begun questioning the thoroughness of the recruitment effort.
Councilman David Ryu, who first called for Garcetti to conduct a national search in 2016, said the process should have been as robust as any effort to recruit a new police chief. He issued a letter Monday asking for more explanation of how the process was conducted.
"I have seen no evidence that a comprehensive search was done to find a new city administrative officer," Ryu said in an emailed statement to The Times. "This is concerning to me."
Wendy Macy, who heads the city's Personnel Department, said the city received 35 applications for the job, which is currently filled by Llewellyn on an interim basis. Ten of those applications, she said, came from out of state.
Garcetti, for his part, said in an interview that the recruitment process had produced job applicants who "know how the city works, and can start on Day One."
"It's been very exhaustive," he said, "and I know I'm very satisfied with the quality of candidates."
Garcetti declined to reveal the number of people he had interviewed for the post, saying only that it was "more than one, less than 100." Meanwhile, one high-level analyst at City Hall confirmed that he sought the job and never heard from anyone in Garcetti's office.
Ben Ceja, who serves as assistant city administrative officer, said he submitted an application but never received a job interview. Ceja is one of the No. 2 executives in the office.
Llewellyn declined to discuss his situation, referring questions about the search to Garcetti and the Personnel Department. Szabo did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment.
The job of city administrative officer, or CAO, is little known by the public yet essential to the workings of City Hall.
The CAO is chief negotiator for the employment contracts of an array of city unions, including police, firefighters and civilians. Salaries and benefits contained in those agreements have a huge effect on the city's ability to provide other services.
The CAO also oversees the city's yearly budget, recommending cuts when revenues soften and new spending when times are good. The office also produces policy reports on major city issues, such as efforts to house the city's homeless and reduce the amount of garbage on sidewalks, streets and alleys.
Miguel Santana, who served as CAO for nearly eight years and left the position in January 2017, was also heavily involved in the city's efforts to settle long-standing lawsuits, including big-ticket cases involving broken sidewalks and disabled housing.
During his tenure, Santana built a reputation as someone willing to give the mayor and council unpopular advice. For example, he drew criticism in 2012 from environmental groups and labor unions for opposing plans for an exclusive trash franchise system for commercial businesses — a program later named RecycLA.
Santana "wasn't afraid to contradict the council" on issues they cared about, said Jack Humphreville, who serves on the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates, a panel that examines city spending.
"He had the courage of his convictions," he added.
Councilman Joe Buscaino, one of the city lawmakers who will participate in Wednesday's candidate interviews, said he wants the next CAO to "be upfront and honest and not sugarcoat any issue."
"I'm looking for a candidate who will be truly independent and, quite frankly, won't be afraid to tell the council and the mayor things that we may not want to hear," he said.
Llewellyn has served more than once as a high-level aide to Garcetti. During Garcetti's first term as a councilman, Llewellyn served as his chief of staff. Before that, Llewellyn was a top advisor to Garcetti's father, former Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti.
Szabo, in turn, has advised Garcetti on labor issues and served as one of the mayor's appointees on the Board of Public Works, the only city commission whose members receive a full salary.
In 2013, he ran unsuccessfully to replace Garcetti in a council district that stretches from Echo Park to Hollywood. Szabo also is close to Ana Guerrero, Garcetti's chief of staff.
Times staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report