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Agency's Troubles Prompt O.C. Board to Review Exec

The supervisors meet with County Executive Officer Schumacher to assess his oversight of the Planning Department's finances.

January 09, 2003|Seema Mehta and Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writers

The Orange County Board of Supervisors abruptly convened a review of County Executive Officer Michael Schumacher's performance Wednesday amid concerns that he did not provide adequate oversight of the financially troubled Planning Department.

The board met with Schumacher in private Wednesday afternoon, emerging about 5 p.m. with no announcements about his future. Supervisor Tom Wilson called for the closed-session late Tuesday, just hours after he was appointed the board's chairman.

The supervisors would not comment specifically on what was discussed, but several sources said some board members are unhappy about what they considered the county's slow response to financial woes at the Planning and Development Services Department.

The department announced last month that it would lay off 20% of its staff and seek sharp increases in permit fees to bring the budget into balance.

Critics contend that the department should have slashed costs years ago when revenue began to decline because of the slowing economy. Instead, the department spent down its $18-million reserve as well as an $8-million bailout the board allocated in August.

When the full dimensions of the crisis became clear in December, several supervisors said they felt blindsided.

After the performance review, Wilson would not say whether the department's problems came up. "There was only discussion on performance," he said. "I don't want to go any further than that because we didn't finish. We have more to talk about."

Schumacher could not be reached for comment.

Several sources said some supervisors have been frustrated that the executive officer's office hasn't kept a tighter rein on the county's far-flung departments and agencies.

Schumacher, the sources added, had talked for some time about the possibility of retiring -- talk that grew louder after the Planning Department problems emerged.

Asked about speculation that Schumacher might retire, Wilson said: "It may be true that he's looking to retire, but it wasn't mentioned" in the meeting.

Schumacher, who holds a doctoral degree in human behavior, is an expert on juvenile crime who has worked for the county for 32 years. As chief probation officer, he developed a program that aims to alter the behavior of repeat offenders.

Known as a consensus-builder, he was tapped to run the county after Jan Mittermeier, who resigned under pressure in 2000. Mittermeier and the board often clashed, with some supervisors criticizing her hard-charging style and questioning whether she had too much authority.

Wilson said the board hadn't given Schumacher a performance evaluation since he became county executive officer. He said the board will meet again with him, possibly this month.

Meanwhile, officials said eight of 39 planning employees faced with being laid off have been given other positions within the county. The layoffs were pushed back from today to Jan. 16. That extra week is intended to give officials more time for employees to find work within the county.

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Times staff writer Janet Wilson contributed to this report.

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