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Ventura County

County Will Hire Recruiter to Help Find New Mental Health Director

Only 14 candidates have applied for the job in the troubled department. Several possible factors, including personality conflicts, are blamed.

November 15, 2002|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County is expanding its efforts to find a new director for its troubled mental health department after only 14 candidates applied for the $114,000-a-year post.

The county will soon hire a recruiting firm to help widen the pool of candidates, said Human Services Director Barbara Journet.

A decision not to use a professional recruiter earlier in the process probably accounts for the weak response, Journet said. County officials were hoping to save money by advertising for applicants themselves, she said.

However, she acknowledged that personality conflicts and a turf war that has roiled the Behavioral Health Department for nearly five years also played a role.

Former mental health chief Stephen Kaplan resigned in 1999 after battling with his boss, Health Care Agency Director Pierre Durand. His replacement, Dr. David Gudeman, was fired by supervisors in April after repeatedly clashing with other department managers.

"That has had an impact, definitely" Journet said.

But she said many would-be candidates are also put off by the high cost of housing in Ventura County. The median price of a home in September was $330,000.

Acting mental health chief Linda Shulman, a candidate for the position, said she is upbeat about the decision to extend the recruitment period to early January.

"The way it's been explained to me is that the quantity of candidates wasn't sufficient enough," said Shulman, 41. "I'm going to trust that [the second recruitment] will lead to a good result and everyone's confidence in me if I am chosen."

There are at least two other in-house candidates, but officials declined to identify them or other applicants.

No one has yet been screened out, Journet said. County Executive Officer Johnny Johnston, when asked about Shulman's chances of getting the post, said the decision to try again "should not reflect poorly on the candidates who are already in the process."

Durand, Shulman's boss, said he has been satisfied with her performance over the past six months. Employees in the mental health agency have been demoralized by the turmoil, but that appears to have settled down since Shulman took over, he said.

"She has stabilized the department and that says something," he said.

Shulman is a psychologist and earned a master's degree in business administration from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in 1996. Before coming to the county, she worked as a consultant on mental health issues.

California requires that mental health directors have an academic background and/or a license in social work, psychology or counseling.

Journet said that limits applicants. It is also a tough job that requires one to be both an expert in administrative matters and diplomatic with superiors, employees and well-organized advocacy groups.

"Under any circumstances, running a mental health agency is difficult," Journet said. "And with the funding cuts that all the departments are facing, it certainly doesn't make it attractive to want to move."

County officials sent information about the job to every mental health department in California, Journet said. They also put the position on a government job listing, she said.

This time they will expand the search across the nation. They will also discuss raising the salary range if the recruiter recommends that, Journet said.

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