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One Ex-County CEO to Another: You're Wrong

November 09, 2003

Re "Why Seek a County CEO When We Have No Crisis?," Commentary, Oct. 19:

William J. Popejoy's premise regarding a county chief administrative officer seems to be that fraud and deceit caused the county bankruptcy, not the management structure, and, that, anyway, county government is "largely redundant." Therefore, the Orange County Board of Supervisors should settle for a county administrator with responsibility but no authority.

Popejoy was the county's chief executive officer for six months. I followed Popejoy, but my tenure lasted five years and resulted in a successful bankruptcy recovery. I think I am in a better position than Popejoy to judge the effect of the management structure he proposes.

Popejoy is almost correct about the bankruptcy cause. The investment pool was mismanaged by the county treasurer and his assistant. Deceit if not actual fraud by the treasurer's investment advisor was the obvious cause of the $1.6-billion county bankruptcy.

However, the county's ineffectual management structure created a "See no evil, speak no evil" culture that permitted mismanagement and fraud to flourish unimpeded and unreported.

Popejoy is wrong about the need for county government. The county provides regional services that cannot be provided by a city, such as criminal prosecution, voter registration and the recording of vital documents.

If the county is inefficient or dysfunctional, it is because it lacks a sensible management structure and strong CEO, not because it is "largely redundant."

If the supervisors follow Popejoy's advice, they will pave the way for a new fiscal crisis. Popejoy may then be forced to agree that five elected members of the Board of Supervisors, with equal power but varying agendas, experience levels and management styles, cannot effectively manage any organization.

Jan Mittermeier

Huntington Beach

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