Former county counsel to lead homeless commission

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — The county’s retired lead counsel will return to head up the Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness, set to meet for the first time this week.

The Board of Supervisors voted Aug. 31 to approve rehiring Mary Wickham, agreeing to waive a 180-day waiting period for reinstatement of a retired county employee.

Wickham was sworn in as a Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner in November 2020, after leaving her five-year stint at the top of the county’s legal department. She had been scheduled for training in the court’s probate division, but was ultimately assigned to a criminal traffic calendar and left just over eight months later, retiring July 15, according to a court spokeswoman.

Now she will be charged with recommending a new homelessness governance model that some county supervisors hope will reignite the county’s approach to solving a seemingly intractable problem. Others have expressed fears it will be a waste of time.

The commission has been given six months to conduct an in-depth study of the existing model under the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and recommend the “design of an enhanced framework that ensures an accountable governance and measurable outcomes,” according to board documents.

Her rehiring was approved 3-1 without comment by the Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Holly Mitchell voted against and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was absent from the session.

Kuehl and Mitchell both opposed the formation of the commission, the brainchild of Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who warned that unless cities have more input into how Measure H dollars are spent, the county won’t garner the support it needs to ensure future funding.

Homelessness is a major crisis affecting our communities at every level, and it’s time for sweeping changes to the system,” Barger said in July, when the board voted 3-2 to support a commission.

This Blue Ribbon Commission will be critical to help the county, in partnership with our 88 cities, identify the reforms and changes needed and to move forward with actions that can finally help our vulnerable residents who are suffering on the streets,” Barger said at the time.

Part of its review will include an analysis of the fiscal and operational implications of renegotiating or even withdrawing from the joint powers agreement with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Kuehl said she agreed with Barger that homelessness was an urgent issue requiring all hands on deck, but couldn’t see what the commission might accomplish.

There is no silver bullet about homelessness,” Kuehl said in July. “There is no sudden, new something we haven’t even thought of that is going to come out of this. 

“This, I think, will actually simply take up a lot of time, come up with many of the same recommendations that we’ve heard from the four reports that we’ve done in the last 12 months about [the authority] and homelessness, and then we will be facing the same question about action or lack of action.”

Each supervisor appointed one commissioner, with Supervisor Hilda Solis appointing LAHSA chair Sarah Dusseault and Kuehl appointing former Los Angeles City Councilwoman and City Controller Wendy Greuel. Mitchell appointed LaCheryl Porter, COO of St. Joseph Center.

In addition to the other supervisors’ choices, the board has also confirmed two commissioners named by the Councils of Government and one nominated by the Contract Cities Association. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has one seat to give, while the other three spots are controlled by Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez.

On a separate motion Aug. 31, the Board of Supervisors approved a staff of four, including Wickham, to support the 12-member commission, and a one-time budget of $480,000.

Wickham is being hired at $215 per hour and under the rules that govern retirees receiving a county pension, she is entitled to work up to 960 hours, or the equivalent of 120 days, over the next year.

The commission is designed to end after six months, a point both Barger and Supervisor Janice Hahn stressed in pressing for it over objections that it would derail momentum in the battle against homelessness.

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