Ignoring pressure from organized labor, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has decided to retain a top budget official who recommended layoffs and cuts in pension benefits for new hires during the city’s fiscal crisis.
Miguel Santana, who reports to both the mayor and the City Council, will stay on as chief administrative officer, playing a crucial role in drafting Garcetti’s first budget and leading contract talks with unions for thousands of city workers.
Santana’s approach to balancing the budget has irked union leaders. During this year’s mayoral campaign, labor leaders made clear they hoped the winner would dump Santana.
But Garcetti, a staunch liberal when on the council, embraced the layoffs and benefit cuts as proof that he would show fiscal restraint as mayor. That strategy proved effective in a race against labor’s preferred candidate, Wendy Greuel.
“We feel that Miguel will be a strong partner in Mayor Garcetti’s work to balance our budget and make sure that city departments are able to deliver quality service,” Garcetti spokseman Yusef Robb said.
Despite a rebound in tax collections, Santana told his staff in a memo Monday that there remained “significant uncertainty and risk in our current fiscal situation due to the vulnerable economy, unsettled litigation, and expenditure growth that continues to eclipse gains in revenue.”
“Our job going forward is to identify and mitigate these risks,” Santana wrote.
Most outspoken about labor’s dislike for Santana was a leader of Local 721 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents 10,000 city workers.
“We’re disappointed that the mayor chose to keep him because of the arbitrary and heavy-handed way [Santana] has dealt with city workers,” said Local 721 steward Tim Butcher, a truck driver with the Bureau of Street Services. “When L.A. was in financial trouble, he discounted every proposal we made to fix it. He was too closed-minded and unmoving, and it resulted in cuts to city services.”
In an interview, Santana said he took direction from the mayor and the council, whose budget choices went a long way toward addressing the city’s chronic budget shortfalls.
“That would not have happened,” he said, “if management wasn’t willing to raise some difficult questions and put them on the table and go through the difficult back-and-forth that’s necessary to make progress.”
Tension between Santana and Garcetti erupted over the summer when the chief administrative officer urged the new mayor to quickly approve a contract with a union for Department of Water and Power workers. The union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, had spent heavily on campaign advertising for Greuel, and Garcetti insisted on more concessions -- some of which he ultimately won.
Santana said Monday that Garcetti had “made a good deal better.”
“It was a very good outcome,” he said, “and I think the process was exactly what it needed to be to get there.”