SACRAMENTO — In a major reshuffling, state Health Services Director Kenneth W. Kizer announced the appointment on Monday of a new management team to run the state's embattled effort to clean up toxic wastes.
The administrative shake-up follows Gov. George Deukmejian's expression earlier this month that he has been "a little disappointed" in the performance of the department's toxics unit, the subject of a highly critical audit by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a probe by the FBI.
"We're trying to solve that disappointment," said department spokesman William Ihle. "We feel we have a good record in toxics. We want to clean up any of the paper work problems that have occurred and attempt to get an outside perspective."
Kizer's right-hand man, chief of staff John Ramey, assumed direct responsibility Monday for the toxics division in addition to his other responsibilities. The former chief of the division, Richard P. Wilcoxon, will return on Jan. 1 to a parallel post in the state's Medi-Cal program.
Since the resignation of Deputy Health Services Director Joel Moskowitz six months ago, the toxics program, which Deukmejian has charted as one of his highest priorities, has been without a top department administrator.
Ramey fills that void. As of Jan. 1, he will be assisted by James B. Jenkins, who now heads a department program working with counties to provide alternative ways to deliver Medi-Cal to the poor. He has a background in geophysics and geochemistry, Ihle said.
Also joining the toxics division are other department administrators with experience in accounting, audits and regulations.
Ihle said that Wilcoxon had voluntarily chosen to return to the department's Medi-Cal branch after more than two years as chief of the toxics division. "It is not a demotion," Ihle said.
The shift was seen as a necessary move to boost the Administration's toxic cleanup effort, which is shaping up as a major campaign issue in 1986, when Deukmejian will seek reelection.
Some critics have charged that the governor has allowed the toxics program to flounder while he fought to create a new department of waste management, which would consolidate much of the state's cleanup and enforcement efforts now shared by several agencies. The governor's proposal has stalled in the Legislature and now cannot go into place before Jan. 1, 1987, even with legislative approval.
One Department of Health Services official, who asked that his name not be used, praised Wilcoxon as "a good nuts-and-bolts guy, a good soldier, who did much to clean up the administrative chaos he inherited."
However, a legislative aide who has been following the toxics program said that changes have long been needed. "The thing to look for is whether they have gotten managers in there who are able to manage the program," said the aide, who agreed to comment only if he was not identified. "Rather than people with substantive knowledge, they simply need people with organizational ability to let their technical experts do their jobs."
"What's needed is someone who can motivate the people over there," said Michael Paparian, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club. "They've been really weak in looking to the problems of the future."
In recent months, the Administration's toxics program has been severely criticized by federal auditors from the EPA, who questioned the state's spending of $2 million in cleanup efforts at three federal Superfund sites. The auditors attacked contracting and bidding procedures, which they said they believed contributed to excessive expenditures.