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L.A. city official says mayor doesn't have authority to order layoffs 'on his own'

In a memo, Chief Deputy City Atty. Bill Carter advises employees in the city attorney's office that Villaraigosa lacks the power to compel department heads to lay off employees.

February 06, 2010|By Maeve Reston

A day after Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ordered the elimination of 1,000 jobs to address the city's budget crisis, Chief Deputy City Atty. Bill Carter wrote a memo stating the mayor does not have authority under the City Charter "on his own to order layoffs."

In the Friday memo, Carter advised employees in the office of City Atty. Carmen Trutanich that Villaraigosa lacks the power to compel city department heads to lay off employees, an opinion that puts the city's top lawyer at odds with the mayor.

Trutanich has strenuously opposed City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana's proposal to eliminate 100 positions in the city attorney's office as part of the plan to cut 1,000 jobs from the city's rolls.

Carter opined in his memo that the mayor's "urgent directive" Thursday is "not binding on department heads," whom the mayor can hire and fire as he sees fit. He also said the office has "no intention" of laying off any staff until the City Council directs them to do so.

Because Trutanich is an elected official, Carter wrote, "the mayor's limited authority under the charter does not extend to this office or other elected offices."

"The mayor's authority extends only to 'departments, agencies and appointed offices,' " Carter wrote. "Although department heads and elected offices have the power independently to manage their personnel and budgets, including laying off personnel as they deem necessary, the mayor cannot compel such action. He certainly cannot compel it in this office."

In an interview, Carter confirmed that he wrote the memo, obtained by The Times, but said he could not discuss whether his office had given legal advice to general managers of other city departments about their options Friday.

"This e-mail went to our employees in order to alleviate any anxiety they may have based on the reporting of the mayor's action," he said.

Brian Currey, counsel to the mayor, praised Trutanich's efforts to alleviate the city's budget problems through debt collections and by reducing lawsuit judgments and settlements. He added that Villaraigosa doesn't "have any intention of trying to force the city attorney to lay off or transfer any of his employees."

But Currey also noted that Villaraigosa is the city's chief executive officer and that general managers answer to him.

"He has said he is going to work through his department heads to effectuate transfers and layoffs, and we fully expect those managers to comply with the mayor's wishes," Currey said.

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