LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Fesia Davenport was formally confirmed Tuesday as Los Angeles County’s first Black chief executive officer, one of a host of diverse senior appointments made by the Board of Supervisors.
Supervisor Hilda Solis, who currently chairs the board, welcomed the new executives in a series of statements.
“I am proud to welcome a history-making, diverse, and highly accomplished group of new department heads,” Solis said. “Ensuring equity and representation at the executive level is of paramount importance as we continue to serve and guide the nation’s most populous county through the most challenging period in our recent history.”
Davenport has filled the role of acting CEO since her predecessor, Sachi Hamai, retired in August.
She is responsible for a $38.2 billion budget and overseeing funding for priorities ranging from fighting homelessness to rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine and retooling the county’s probation and juvenile justice system.
County Counsel Rodrigo Castro-Silva also was confirmed in his new role, stepping into the shoes of Mary Wickham, who has moved on to a seat on the bench as a commissioner for the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Castro-Silva will oversee county litigation as the board battles with Sheriff Alex Villanueva as some members seek to remove him from his elected post and as the union that represents county prosecutors has sued District Attorney George Gascon over recent reforms.
Other new department heads include Rafael Carbajal, director of Consumer and Business Affairs; Emilio Salas, executive director of the Los Angeles County Development Authority; and Adolfo Gonzales, chief probation officer.
“These new appointees possess outstanding credentials as proven leaders in their professions and will oversee crucially important areas — including support for consumers, businesses and, unsheltered (individuals), justice system reform and housing,” Solis said, noting that all will face daunting challenges given both the pandemic and initiatives to overhaul various departments.
Carbajal, who has served as acting director since September and was previously the department’s chief deputy, said he was honored to run the DCBA, which manages many COVID-related relief programs in addition to a wide-ranging set of other services. He led efforts on rent stabilization and tenant protection, and the department also includes the Office of Immigrant Affairs.
“I look forward to working with the board, my colleagues and our partners to help our communities not only endure but emerge stronger from this challenging time,” Carbajal said in a statement.
Salas, who has been running the LACDA for more than a year as the acting ED, has worked for the agency since 1988. The LACDA’s focus is on affordable housing and community and economic development at a time when both are sorely needed.
The department runs 10 separate COVID-19 emergency relief programs totaling nearly $200 million, including for emergency rental assistance and grants to micro-entrepreneurs.
“While I am extremely proud of my team and our collective work to meet these challenges, I fully understand that so much more needs to be done to weave a safety net for the millions of county residents that are genuinely hurting now and are worried about the future,” Salas said. “We will use our collective resources to do what is required of us and what the people of this great county expect from its government leaders.”
Gonzales came to Los Angeles from a job as probation chief for San Diego County and has a long career in law enforcement, including as police chief for National City and assistant chief for the San Diego Police Department.
He will take over probation as the county seeks to move responsibility for juvenile justice out of the department and put money into diversion programs aimed at reducing the jail population.
The board is likely betting on his ability to lean into proposed reforms, and Gonzales oversaw the bifurcation of adult and juvenile probation in San Diego and also received a grant from Georgetown’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform to implement a new youth custody model.
The supervisors also appointed attorney Wendelyn Julien as the first executive director of a new Probation Oversight Commission. As the CEO of the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Los Angeles, Julien advocated for foster youth. She also serves on a county commission charged with overseeing the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
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