Stopping just short of urging that San Diego County's top administrator be fired, the county grand jury on Tuesday released a blunt report calling for a dramatic change in the way county government is run.
The report says the county's management is in "disarray" and cites a litany of problems ranging from the scandal in the purchase of a county telephone system to mismanagement of the Department of Health Services.
"One clear fact stands out," the report says. "No one is in control of San Diego County governmental responsibilities."
Although the jury did not actually recommend that Chief Administrative Officer Clifford Graves be fired, that was the impression created as word of the two-page report raced through the County Administration Center downtown.
Graves refused to comment on the report except to utter a few words as he walked down a hallway and into his office. Asked by a reporter whether he intended to resign, Graves, clearly angry, shot back, "What business is that of yours?"
But several sources in county government speculate that Graves may offer his resignation as soon as this morning, when the board meets in a regularly scheduled closed session.
"I can't see how he can survive this," an aide to a county supervisor said.
Whether or not Graves is ready to leave the county, the grand jury report, which is purely advisory, seemed to cement an impression that has been forming for months: that the Board of Supervisors has had enough.
In recent years, the county government's image has sunk to new lows almost weekly as scandals and allegations of mismanagement in several departments have surfaced.
Last year, county voters elected three new members to the five-member Board of Supervisors and approved Proposition A, intended to improve management by giving the chief administrator more power and making him more accountable to the board.
Since Supervisors Susan Golding, Brian Bilbray and George Bailey joined Leon Williams and Paul Eckert on the board in January, the newcomers have said publicly that they would evaluate Graves' performance and decide on his future by this summer.
It would take three votes to fire Graves.
In separate interviews Tuesday, the three new supervisors would not say they are ready to fire Graves--but they came close. Graves, 46, came to the county from the federal government in 1976 and took over as chief administrator in July, 1978.
Bailey said he would add the grand jury's report to the "file of evidence" he has been compiling on Graves since January. Although Bailey said he had wanted to give Graves another 30 days to prove himself, he said Tuesday that he could make the decision "within the hour" if he had to.
Bilbray said he was not surprised by the grand jury's recommendation. "It was to be expected," he said. "I had perceived that eventually that conclusion would be arrived at."
But Bilbray said he was willing to withhold judgment on Graves until hearings on the county's nearly $1-billion budget end this month.
"There is not a lot of news in the grand jury report," Golding said. "What is important is that it's yet another comment about the administrative problems at the county, many of which I feel are accurate."
Eckert, who has been on the board since 1978, was more evasive, when asked to comment on Graves' future, but he did say that "the Board of Supervisors is way ahead of the grand jury."
Board Chairman Williams, the member closest to Graves, is expected to return late tonight from a trip to China.
Although there was little, if anything, new in the grand jury report, the recommendation for a change in administration may prove to be what was needed to justify what a majority of the board already had intended to do.
The bulk of the report consisted of a string of 19 statements beginning with the words "we found" and ending with a reference, sometimes indirect, to a problem or scandal.
"We found inefficient management, such as Mental Health," the report says. "We found department heads unwilling or unable to provide leadership and to step forward with recommendations . . . We found (Graves) either provided with inaccurate information or himself relaying inaccurate information to the grand jury . . . We found some inept department heads . . . We found criminal action of wrongdoing being filed against former county employees . . . We found ourselves referring time and again to the City of San Diego's operation as an example of how the county should be run. "We found a county government in disarray and no one able leader either elected or appointed."
Specifically, the report recommends that the board place Graves "on notice that, for the best interests of San Diego County, a change in administration will be necessary."
But grand jury foreman William Egan pointed out in an interview that the report does not call for county supervisors to fire Graves.
"It's a very delicate point," Egan said. "What we're saying is you could change the administration of the county without changing the administrator. Whether it's too late or not for that, of course, is up to the board."
Egan said the jury's allegations are not accompanied by documentation because most are spelled out in previous grand jury reports or in other public documents.
Another juror, who asked not to be identified, said, "There comes a time when you have to say, 'Look, the emperor is wearing no clothes.' This is that time."