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Trutanich finds it hard to bring in his own team

Los Angeles City Atty.-elect Carmen Trutanich complained Thursday that his transition to office is being made more difficult by the current officeholder’s decision to grant job protections to top aides, comparing it to “Barack Obama walking in and Karl Rove is sitting in the White House.”

Trutanich said he was walking “into just a mess financially” because of the city budget crisis.

“That being the case,” he told KABC-AM (790) radio talk host Doug McIntyre, “when people who are at-will employees that have been tenured are there, it makes it difficult to bring in your own staff because there’s not an allocation in the budget for them.”

In his early years in office, current City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo -- like his predecessor -- designated several top aides, including chiefs of staff and communications directors, as so-called tenure exempt. As such, they had no job protection and would have to leave office with their elected boss. Several such aides did leave when former City Atty. James K. Hahn turned the office over to Delgadillo in 2001.

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With turnover in recent years, however, some of Delgadillo’s new hires were put on tenure tracks. And three members of his inner circle were shifted from exempt to tenured status after completing required probationary periods.

Two of the more recent to receive tenure, in April and February, respectively, were Executive Assistant City Atty. Richard Llewellyn, who heads the staff and is paid nearly $205,000, and Communications Director Nick Velasquez, who is paid $118,000.

A key member of Trutanich’s transition team took aim at Delgadillo’s personnel practices. “Carmen Trutanich wants to clean house and Rocky has nailed down all the furniture,” said senior advisor John Shallman.

“Political appointees shouldn’t get guaranteed jobs for life. . . . It’s political patronage that thwarts the will of the [City] Charter and the voters of Los Angeles.”

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Velasquez, Delgadillo’s spokesman, said his boss believes his top legal aides are well-qualified and valuable assets to the city. The challenges facing Trutanich are not the result of any current staff members receiving tenure or remaining with the office, he said.

“The only thing standing between Mr. Trutanich and hiring of his people is a record citywide budget deficit,” Velasquez said. “As we said before, we will work with the city attorney-elect to get the resources he needs.”

The City Charter allows -- but does not require -- the city attorney to appoint up to eight non-tenured aides. They have tended to be top political appointees, but the designation is not tied to any specific positions. The city attorney also can offer any top aides tenure as he chooses.

Meanwhile, City Councilman Dennis Zine, a Trutanich supporter, plans to seek council approval to have budget analysts come up with a financial plan so Trutanich can bring in his own team of eight non-tenured aides.

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rich.connell@latimes.com


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