More than a month after Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar was charged in a political corruption probe and suspended from the council, Council President Nury Martinez set out plans Tuesday for a “caretaker” to manage Huizar’s district until former state Senate Leader Kevin de León is appointed in October.
De León won a March race to represent downtown-to-Eagle Rock District 14 but was not slated to be seated until December. Now the “anticipated appointment” of de León is slated for October 15, Martinez wrote in a letter to the city’s chief legislative analyst, Sharon Tso.
In the meantime, Tso said the caretaker could be any staffer she designates from her office. One possible candidate is Assistant Chief Legislative Analyst Avak Keotahian, who Tso said has served as caretaker at City Hall nearly a dozen times in the past.
The move is “intended to assure the residents of the Fourteenth Council District that they will not be without an individual they can turn to until they are once again directly represented by a councilmember,” Martinez wrote.
The caretaker will handle mundane day-to-day responsibilities including reviewing mail and approving time sheets for staff, but will not be able to vote at council meetings. That is likely to frustrate residents who have argued that the district needs a voting representative to weigh in on city decisions about homelessness and other pressing issues.
Martinez did not address in her letter why de León would not take over until October. De León said in an interview that he was unable to do so sooner because someone in his family had a terminal illness, calling it “a deeply personal issue.”
“I’ve been working very hard with my team to make sure the people of CD14 have a voting representative as soon as possible,” de León said. Being sworn in December would have been “unacceptable, so we worked out a way forward.”
De León said he has already been meeting with constituents and working closely with city officials. Earlier this year, he successfully pushed against reallocating funding from a downtown streetcar project during the budget process, contending that doing so would be “taking advantage” of the unusual plight of the district.
The newly announced plans come after weeks of confusion among residents of the district about who is in charge after Huizar’s suspension.
Huizar has pleaded not guilty to charges that include bribery, money laundering and racketeering in an ongoing federal investigation. He has not resigned from his council seat, despite other council members urging him to step down. Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer, said that being suspended means that the office is “temporarily vacant.”
Huizar has not voted on city issues since the middle of May, when Martinez asked Huizar to stop attending council meetings. In recent weeks, Huizar staffers have been working under the direction of chief of staff Eduardo Soriano-Hewitt to respond to residents about local issues.