Los Angeles Times

COVID report softens criticism about Garcetti

In final version, mayor is also praised for acting ‘decisively’ in his response to crisis.

- By Dakota Smith

Several criticisms of Mayor Eric Garcetti and his office were softened or removed from the final version of a report on Los Angeles’ emergency response to the COVID-19 crisis, a Times analysis shows.

The 220-page final report, produced for the city by an outside firm at a cost of $150,000, found that there was never a formal discussion regarding who was in charge of the emergency operation, a misstep that led to a breakdown in coordinati­on and communicat­ion among city department­s. The earlier draft version of the report reached the same conclusion.

At the same time, both reports offer praise for Garcetti, who “acted quickly and decisively on many fronts, often with innovative initiative­s to help protect the city and its people.” City employees’ response was described as “quick” and “heartfelt.”

But the final report removes several criticisms mentioned in the draft, in some cases deleting sentences that were not flattering to the mayor’s office.

Stripped from the final report, for instance, was a reference to how several de

partment leaders who attended Garcetti’s weekly “cabinet” meetings told researcher­s that the meetings “often felt more like dictations rather than discussion­s.”

Likewise, a sentence noting that there were complaints from staff at the Emergency Management Department, or EMD, about their work tasks being “politicall­y driven” was removed.

The Emergency Operations Activation After-Action Report was released publicly last week and approved by the city’s Emergency Operations Board. The board forwarded the report to the City Council with no discussion.

The city hired CPARS Consulting Inc. to review the city’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic to help prepare for the next catastroph­e. Researcher­s conducted 31 group interview sessions with 153 city staff members and representa­tives of partner agencies, according to the report.

The Times last year reviewed the non-public draft report, which contained errors, an EMD spokespers­on said at the time. Nick Lowe, president and chief executive of CPARS Consulting, said last year that the final version was being completed and that the company “stands by the integrity of each iteration of the report at the time they were drafted.”

The period of the review covered January 2020 to April 2021 and focused only on the city’s emergency management system, which includes the “structures in place to support and enable field operations, programs and service.”

The report did not focus on the city’s vaccinatio­n efforts, for instance.

In the final report, “mayor’s office” is dropped or changed in several cases. In one instance, the draft report said that the EMD and its mission were “misunderst­ood by other department­s, particular­ly the mayor’s office.” The final report said that other “city offices, department­s, agencies and bureaus” misunderst­ood the EMD.

Likewise, the draft report said that “staff from the mayor’s office expressed they viewed EMD as mired by process and bureaucrac­y, slow to react, and lacking creative solutions.” The final report said simply that “many in senior positions” viewed EMD that way.

In several cases, paragraphs were added to the final report that counter criticisms in the earlier draft.

Both reports note that the EMD said the mayor himself was not as involved as his predecesso­rs in emergency preparedne­ss.

The final version added that “this was not a feeling shared by the mayor’s office which felt the mayor had been sufficient­ly involved with emergency preparedne­ss considerin­g the other demands of his position and that much had occurred within the mayor’s office.”

“Perhaps limited visibility into the mayor’s emergency preparedne­ss efforts influenced EMD’s perspectiv­e,” the final report said.

Lowe, of CPARS Consulting, said little was changed in the final report with regard to the “findings and the substantiv­e analysis.”

He acknowledg­ed the language was softened in parts of the final version, calling the developmen­t of such reports a “balancing act.”

“You want the language to be direct and to capture the gravity of the situation and also be strong enough to catch the attention of the right people who are responsibl­e for effecting change,” Lowe said. “We don’t want these reviews to be swept under the rug. At the same time, the findings need to be communicat­ed in such a way that those in positions to effect change will still be receptive to the report’s findings and motivated to take action.”

In all, more than 1,300 changes were made to the draft reports, many of them minor edits, according to The Times’ analysis of both drafts.

Lowe said requests for edits were submitted to him by the mayor’s office and other department­s and agencies. “CPARS then autonomous­ly adjudicate­d each request on a case-bycase basis,” he said.

Harrison Wollman, a spokesman for Garcetti, said the mayor made the decision to act decisively at the beginning of the pandemic.

“He chose to make Los Angeles one of the first cities in America to offer free testing, require masking, and stand up mega-vaccinatio­n sites,” Wollman said. “Any crisis is an opportunit­y to take away lessons for the future, and the mayor knows this experience has prepared the city to better handle future emergencie­s.”

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