STAFF WRITER MARCH 21, 2022
UPDATED 6:55 PM PT
Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson, who was cleared last week to serve as a temporary member of the council, moved quickly Monday to remove a longtime aide to Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas who has been serving as the district’s caretaker, that aide said.
Karly Katona, Ridley-Thomas’ chief of staff, said she and one of her colleagues, chief deputy Fernando Ramirez, were informed Monday afternoon by officials in the city clerk’s office that they were being fired immediately.
Katona has been serving as the nonvoting caretaker of the 10th District since Ridley-Thomas was suspended from his post. She said officials in the City Clerk’s office informed her that Wesson had made the decision.
“I have worked hard to carry out the vision of the district’s elected representative and create stability during this tumultuous time,” Katona said. “And I’m deeply disappointed to not be able to continue doing so.”
Katona said she has not heard from Wesson since he was selected last month to serve as an interim replacement for Ridley-Thomas.
The personnel moves came just days after a judge cleared the way for Wesson to carry out his duties as a temporary replacement for Ridley-Thomas, who is currently fighting federal corruption charges. Ridley-Thomas was suspended days after being indicted on charges of bribery, conspiracy and other charges.
Wesson acknowledged to The Times that he has made staffing decisions since his return but declined to mention names.
“At the end of the day, I’m only here to do the will of the people,” he said. “I asked the staff to stay on who were committed to that goal, and not at the self-interest of others.”
City Clerk Holly Wolcott confirmed that Katona and Ramirez no longer are in their posts, saying they were advised that “they reached the end of appointment” and are effectively laid off.
Wolcott said her office serves as “HR” for the council — and has the authority to remove a council staffer if “directed by the council member.” She also confirmed that Katona has been replaced by Heather Hutt, who ran unsuccessfully last year for a seat in the State Assembly.
Wesson’s temporary appointment has been challenged in recent weeks by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, which argued that the city’s term limit law makes him ineligible.
John Sweeney, the attorney for the civil rights group, called the removal of Katona “absolutely unnecessary,” saying it will create more disruption for the district, which stretches from Koreatown to the Crenshaw Corridor in South Los Angeles. Katona knows the district well and Ridley-Thomas’ trial is just months away, he said.
Wesson is “proceeding like he’s going to be the permanent council person, and he’s not,” Sweeney said.
Harry McElroy, who is also a plaintiff in the case, said Monday’s personnel decision was “vindictive.” Wesson should have kept both Katona and Ramirez — and, at minimum, shown a willingness to meet with them before considering a change, he said.
“It sounds to me like it’s retribution for being on the side of Ridley-Thomas,” he said.
Katona spent nearly a year as Ridley-Thomas’ chief of staff. Before coming to City Hall, she spent 12 years as an aide to Ridley-Thomas at the county, while he was serving on the five-member Board of Supervisors.
The council voted last month to make Wesson the interim voting replacement for the district. Although he was sworn in immediately, a judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking him from carrying out any council duties.
The judge dissolved the restraining order Thursday, saying the plaintiffs first need to seek the sign-off of Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta. Sweeney said his clients intend to continue fighting to have Wesson removed.
Before the judge issued her decision, an attorney for the SCLC of Southern California had warned that letting Wesson remain would cause “irreparable” harm — and put Ridley-Thomas’ staff at risk of being removed.
Denise Fairchild, who lives in the district, called Monday’s personnel changes “outrageous.”
“Karly Katona is absolutely the best civil servant anyone can ever imagine,” she said. “That girl delivers. She’s effective. She cares about environmental justice, economic justice.”
Council President Nury Martinez, who spearheaded the effort to bring Wesson back on a temporary basis, had no comment on the changes.
“Councilmember Wesson spent 15 years serving Council District 10,” said Martinez spokeswoman Sophie Gilchrist, “and he’s entitled to make his own staffing decisions.”
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