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Orange County Expected to Keep Interim Top Executive Until 2005

Search for permanent chief administrator is put on hold. The man who came out of retirement to take the job will remain.

October 28, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

Orange County supervisors are expected today to postpone a costly but unfruitful search for a new county executive officer by extending through 2004 their contract with interim top executive James D. Ruth.

The Board of Supervisors will meet privately this morning to approve the new terms, according to sources aware of the negotiations.

Several supervisors declined to comment Monday, citing confidentiality requirements for personnel matters. Ruth, who was Anaheim's city manager from 1990 to 2001, also declined to comment through a spokeswoman.

Ruth has held the executive officer's job on an interim basis since January, managing the county's 18,000 employees and $4.8-billion budget. He replaced Michael Schumacher, the county's highly regarded former probation chief who was fired after the board criticized his lax management style. Ruth, 67, came out of retirement to accept the post.

Ruth originally accepted a six-month contract to give the county time to search for an executive officer, at a cost of $85,000. He was praised for bringing vigor to the job and providing experienced leadership even as board members looked for a permanent replacement -- a job Ruth has said he doesn't want.

Nearly a year later, however, at least half a dozen prospects have turned down offers; at the same time, supervisors haven't been able to agree on a replacement who could secure at least four votes on the five-member board. The most promising prospect was Riverside County chief executive Larry Parrish, who declined because his retirement package there was more lucrative than Orange County could offer.

Being Orange County's top executive has been a tough job in recent years. Before the county's bankruptcy in December 1994, county administrators had served for decades without controversy.

After the bankruptcy, however, supervisors fired their chief administrator and replaced him with a stronger executive officer, business executive William Popejoy. Popejoy held the job for no pay, but he left less than a year later after publicly questioning the board's competence.

Jan Mittermeier, former John Wayne Airport director, held the job from 1995 until May 2000, when she was replaced by Schumacher because the board said she was too autocratic.

Schumacher lasted two years in the post. But he eventually was felled by a hands-off response to a series of internal 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.

The grand jury also faulted Schumacher this year for failing to adequately investigate harassment allegations against two managers in the Office of Human Resources.

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