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Supervisors to Weigh Fate of Children's Agency Chief

April 02, 1985|RICH CONNELL | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will meet today in closed-door session to review the performance of Lola Hobbs, director of the new Department of Children's Services, who has been under strong pressure to resign.

Interviews with top county officials over the last week indicate that there is still uncertainty about whether Hobbs will be forced to resign or be allowed to keep her job. However, one supervisor, who declined to be named, said he believes that there are enough votes to oust her.

Hobbs, who has drawn criticism for her management style and continuing problems at MacLaren Children's Center, was named just six months ago to head the department, which was created in response to a public outcry over child abuse cases and mishandling of children under county care.

The new department, with a $90-million budget and more than 2,000 employees, is consolidating services for children that have been scattered among welfare, adoption and probation agencies.

Aides to the supervisors said there has been growing concern among board members about the slow progress in solving problems facing the highly visible department. They also cited friction between Hobbs and some of the 15 members of the new Commission for Children's Services, a panel appointed by the supervisors to advise them on government services for children.

"It's not any one thing," said one supervisor's aide who has been monitoring the department. "It's a concern that some of the problems that could have been solved haven't been."

Others said Hobbs, who came to the position from the No. 2 slot in the San Diego County Welfare Department, has developed uneasy working relationships with some county managers, supervisors' staff and contractors doing business with the department.

"She's lost the confidence of a lot of people," said one top county official, who asked not to be named. "The commission is a minor part of it."

Hobbs said last week that despite reports that her resignation would be sought, she did not intend to step down from her $71,000-a-year post.

In brief comments to reporters Monday, she said, "If all of the members of the board have good information and continue their faith in the department, I have nothing to fear tomorrow nor do the children of Los Angeles."

She suggested that she has not been given a fair chance. Drawing a comparison to a manager of a baseball team, Hobbs said, "If you took over a last-place team, would you expect it to be a pennant team in four months?"

Members of the Commission for Children's Services clashed with Hobbs last month when Hobbs requested that they stop making unannounced visits to MacLaren Center, the county's main emergency shelter for children. The El Monte facility has been rocked by arrests of employees for drug sales, as well as reports of crowding and inappropriate treatment of children.

The request to halt surprise visits came after commissioners said they had found several incidents of allegedly improper behavior by employees. Hobbs said at the time that the visits were "disruptive" and created "a great deal of anxiety."

She has since said that her request to stop the visits was poorly timed and that she welcomes commission monitoring of the facility.

Chief Administrative Officer James Hankla, who met with Hobbs last week to discuss "areas of mutual concern," has sent a confidential memo to board members regarding Hobbs and the department that one source said is "difficult to characterize as favorable."

Board Chairman Ed Edelman, a liberal who led the fight for creation of the department over the objections of some conservative board members, reportedly is one of those most concerned about the situation. Edelman, who met with Hobbs on Monday afternoon, has said only that the administration of the department is "under careful review."

Ironically, Supervisor Pete Schabarum, who opposed creation of the new department, has defended Hobbs. He said the department's problems stem, in part, from the Children's Services Commission seeking publicity and thrusting itself into administrative matters.

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