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Upbeat Supervisors Expect MacDonald to Add to Harmony

November 16, 1986|DANIEL M. WEINTRAUB | Times Staff Writer

The election of John MacDonald to the county Board of Supervisors on Nov. 4 completed a transformation in county government that has seen five feuding fiefdoms give way to a group of elected officials who say they are intent on reaching regional goals with a minimum of rancor.

When MacDonald, now an Oceanside city councilman, replaces defeated Supervisor Paul Eckert, all five seats on the board will have changed hands since 1983.

With a voter-approved 1984 law regulating the behavior of county supervisors and a new chief executive to carry out the board's policies, the county is now positioned to take the lead role in solving some of the region's chronic problems, supervisors and government observers agree.

Growth management, criminal justice planning, and the provision of health and social services to an increasingly urbanizing county are among the items the supervisors will address when MacDonald takes his seat on the board in January.

"MacDonald's election really shows the board has moved dramatically to the center of the spectrum on almost every issue," Supervisor Brian Bilbray said. "It's a very consolidated board. I think that's going to be reflected in how successful we are with our programs. On land issues and everything else, our credibility is going to be much better because both sides of every issue are going to be turned over."

Supervisor Susan Golding said she is pleased that, with MacDonald's election, every member of the board will now have served in municipal government before moving on to the county.

"I think he rounds out the board," Golding, a former San Diego city councilwoman and state official, said. "We now have a board that has experience at more than one elective job, and that offers a perspective that is invaluable."

Supervisor George Bailey, a former mayor of La Mesa, added: "From what I know of him, his background, his philosophy, are very similar to mine."

The addition of MacDonald to the board is expected by many to have less of an impact than the subtraction of Eckert, who was the final remaining member of a group of caustic, often clashing supervisors who ruled the county in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Only four years ago, Eckert was on the board with Roger Hedgecock, Jim Bates, Paul Fordem and Tom Hamilton, all of whom are now gone. Bates, now representing the 44th Congressional District, is the only one of the group still holding public office.

In those days, Hedgecock was the dominant figure on the board, and he was joined in many political endeavors by Bates. The pair had a reputation for publicly brow-beating the county staff, sometimes to the point of bringing seasoned professional bureaucrats to tears.

During that era, the board, among other actions, approved the county's growth management plan, reorganized the county administration, mandated increased conservation through regulations requiring greater use of solar heating, and presided over cutbacks in health and social services after the passage of tax-cutting Proposition 13 in 1978.

Bates' departure for Congress and Hedgecock's for the mayor's office in the first six months of 1983 left something of a power vacuum on the board. Eckert, who was elected to a second term in 1982, tried to assume the leadership role that Hedgecock and Bates had filled. Eckert teamed with Fordem and the new pair worked to redistribute county funds toward their districts in North County and East County, which they contended had been neglected for years.

Tom Hamilton, the former supervisor from South Bay, joined Eckert and Fordem in a loose coalition on many matters, but the board sometimes seemed like five fiefdoms feuding over spoils. Leon Williams, the lone liberal, was isolated, and Patrick Boarman, the National University professor appointed to complete Hedgecock's term, could rarely find an audience for his proposals.

County staff members complained privately that board members routinely summoned them to their private offices and ordered pet projects begun or studies undertaken. Then-county Chief Administrative Officer Clifford Graves complied, in part to win votes for his own initiatives as he played board members' ambitions off against each other.

In the meantime, the county's administration found itself increasingly plagued by problems and scandal.

The personnel system was accused of mismanagement and its director was demoted. The General Services Department's handling of bids for a new telephone system ended in the resignation of two high-ranking employees and the indictment of 13 people on charges of racketeering, bribery and fraud.

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