Director of Budget and Strategic Planning
City of Los Angeles
This is the time of year Chris O’Donnell must be at his best.
As Mayor Richard Riordan’s top budget expert, O’Donnell has to go through the city’s spending plan with a fine-tooth comb. This year, he faces a particular challenge: An estimated $30-to-$100 million deficit in its $2.5 billion General Fund.
“I guess I’m on the firing line,” says O’Donnell, 32, who is the city’s director of budget and strategic planning. “Often, the City Council will need to make certain statements for their own political needs. You have to look beyond the rhetoric to see what actually happens.”
Shaping public policy is not where O’Donnell thought he would end up. In fact, he attended the University of Santa Cruz and graduated in 1986 with a degree in biology.
O’Donnell realized that being a biologist just wasn’t for him. “It was too tedious, so I decided to follow my second pursuit government,” he said.
His first job in the public eye came in the City of L.A.’s Legislative Analyst’s Office. He counts among his mentors Bill McCarley (who at the time was the city’s chief legislative analyst) and Ron Deaton, who now holds the CLA post.
“Chris does a very good job for the city,” says Deaton. “Talent is the only way to explain how fast he’s risen at City Hall. He’s very good at what he does, and he’s got his work cut out for him.”
After several years in the Legislative Analyst’s Office, O’Donnell had planned to leave City Hall and take a job in the private sector. But Deaton convinced him to spend one more year working as assistant deputy mayor. He then became deputy budget director before taking on his current post last year.
The job is rewarding, O’Donnell says, though it’s tough answering not only to the mayor, but to all 15 council members.
“I try to listen to what everyone is saying, and at the same time be willing to take the initiative,” says O’Donnell. “I do get quite a bit of flack sometimes, but that’s all a part of what the mayor wants. He wants us to take the initiative and break new ground, and that’s what I hope to do.”
Joe Bel Bruno