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The Crowded Road Out of L.A. : Reed is only one of the public officials who have quit or been ousted

April 21, 1996

Attracting talented administrators to top public jobs in Los Angeles shouldn't be a problem. What's not to like? The salaries are high. The weather's great. But, as Sally Reed has learned, the politics are unrelenting, the budget problems are intractable and the frustrations can become unbearable.

Reed, Los Angeles County's chief administrative officer for 2 1/2 years, has not taken leave of her senses in deciding to flee her cushy suite at the Hall of Administration to head the state Department of Motor Vehicles. The suite's the only thing that's cushy in her job.

Though she has no ultimate responsibility for the county's sorry fiscal picture, Reed has had the unhappy duty of delivering the bad news. Some members of the County Board of Supervisors clearly have taken aim at the messenger instead of the causes of the red ink.

Reed, the third chief administrative officer in a decade, is leaving in frustration. And, some believe, with ample reason to be disgusted over the politics that drive public policy here in the stead of objective governance.

She's not alone. Franklin White, the former executive director of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, was forced out after 2 1/2 years when he refused to kowtow to the dictates of politicians who insisted on directing contracts and other public largess to their loyal friends and campaign contributors. The MTA board--like the Board of Supervisors and the Board of Education--is known for meddlesome micro-management. There are too many bosses.

Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Sid Thompson announced last week that he plans to retire in June of 1997. The fourth superintendent in a decade, Thompson rose through the ranks. He has spent 40 years in the school district, and he wants out.

Reed and White were outsiders in a town that is notoriously hard on top bosses who can't claim allegiance to UCLA or USC. No L.A. connection usually means no political protection in posts whose occupants serve at the pleasure of politicians. But as Thompson discovered, as did his predecessor, Bill Anton, insider status is also no guarantee of support.

There is too much room at the top these days in Los Angeles--too many offices vacant or soon to be vacant. The specific circumstances triggering each departure vary. But there is a disturbing pattern in this exodus that should force taxpayers--who underwrite the search process, the relocation costs, the high salaries and, in some cases, the contract buyouts and sweetheart severance deals--to question why so many top officials are leaving.

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