William T. Fujioka, a career civil servant known as an ace problem solver, was appointed to Los Angeles' top administrative post Monday by Mayor Richard Riordan.
Fujioka, now head of the city Personnel Department, is a former county official who has been credited by many with helping to keep the troubled High Desert Hospital from being shut down. He is expected to be confirmed as city administrative officer by the council in July.
The officer helps prepare the city's budget, directs its administration and negotiates labor contracts. The officer also oversees the finances of city departments--sometimes putting the office at odds with elected officials and department heads.
Fujioka will replace Keith Comrie, a Riordan critic who retired earlier this year. Comrie had attacked Riordan's support for charter reform, writing in a memo that it would strip departments of their independence, but later backed the reforms himself.
Fujioka said that he sees the job as "a new challenge," but said he did not want to discuss in detail his plans for the job "to show respect for the City Council," which has yet to confirm him.
Before taking over the Personnel Department in 1997, Fujioka, 46, spent 19 years in several Los Angeles County posts. There, he was best known for his work at High Desert Hospital in the Antelope Valley.
Fujioka was dispatched there to turn around an institution in disarray. A county audit found that medicine had been wrongly prescribed to a patient, workers had mishandled radioactive materials and improperly spent dead patients' money. The hospital's administrator had been fired for mismanagement.
When Fujioka took over the hospital, the county was considering closing one of its six hospitals because of budget problems, and High Desert was at the top of the list. Although an infusion of federal aid allowed the county to keep all of its hospitals, some employees and officials said Fujioka contributed to its survival.
Fujioka, they said, quickly brought discipline to the hospital's management, and eventually brought staff morale up from rock-bottom. In his first months on the job, Fujioka's car tires were flattened three times. "I also got some really cool death threats," he said with a roaring laugh, which confidants say is characteristic of his gregarious demeanor.
Fujioka said he left High Desert--where he was living with in-laws--after eight months because he could not stand being away from his wife and children, who stayed in Whittier. By the time he left, more than 100 employees signed a petition asking him to stay.
Born and raised in East Los Angeles, Fujioka has a bachelor's degree in social research from UC Santa Cruz. A third-generation Angeleno, he is also a second-generation city employee. His father worked in the city clerk's office and as a police officer.
Fujioka's grandfather, Fred Jiro Fujioka, was a well-known Little Tokyo businessman, who owned two Oldsmobile dealerships before World War II. The businesses were confiscated at the outbreak of the war, when Fred Fujioka, like numerous other Japanese Americans was falsely suspected of being a Japanese spy.