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O.C. Executive Fired for His Lack of Fire

Supervisors vote to oust Schumacher because of his unaggressive style, particularly in dealing with the financially ailing planning agency.

January 23, 2003|Jean O. Pasco and Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writers

Orange County supervisors Wednesday fired County Executive Officer Michael Schumacher, complaining that he wasn't aggressive enough in confronting the challenges facing county government.

The Board of Supervisors announced the 3-1 vote after a day of closed-door discussion about Schumacher's future. Schumacher, 62, wasn't in the building when board Chairman Tom Wilson announced his ouster and could not be reached for comment later.

Two supervisors said after the vote that they were not pleased with Schumacher's response to pressing problems, notably a financial meltdown at the county Planning and Development Services Department. The department depleted its reserves, announced 39 layoffs and sought increases in inspection fees to balance its budget.

"Michael's personality and style have outlived themselves, as far as I'm concerned, in the county of Orange," said Wilson, adding that Schumacher's replacement should be more of a hands-on manager. "We need to get a little more pep in the system."

Supervisor Chris Norby said the next CEO needs to be someone who "understands numbers."

"Mike had a lot of good years with the county and ... I honor him for that," Norby said. "It's a tough job he had to fill. I hope we can start anew and find the right person for the job."

The vote against firing Schumacher came from Supervisor Chuck Smith, who said the CEO did a good job during his 2 1/2-year tenure. Smith said he worried that with the county bracing for cutbacks because of the state budget gap, this is the wrong time to change management.

"Right now, we're in a huge financial crush," Smith said. "We start our five-year [financial] evaluation next Wednesday, and we don't know what's coming down from the state."

Several sources said board members were unhappy about what they considered the county's slow response to financial woes at the planning department, which was losing $500,000 a month before the layoffs.

When the full dimensions of the crisis became clear in December, several supervisors said they felt blindsided. Wilson said the planning department mess was a factor in Wednesday's vote but "not the sole reason."

"It's something that has been on my mind for a long time, in terms of the management style Michael was exercising," Wilson said. "I felt the county was in need of a major change."

Schumacher was hired in 2000 and originally won praise for his consensus-building approach.

He earns $199,648 a year. He is allowed six months of severance pay upon termination, plus a week for each of his 32 years of county service.

Supervisors chose former Anaheim city manager James D. Ruth to fill in temporarily.

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