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Top County Official Calls It Quits

Wally Hill becomes S.B. County's third administrative officer to step down in three years. His management style was at issue.

March 12, 2004|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

San Bernardino County's top administrator abruptly resigned after members of the Board of Supervisors called for a closed-session hearing to evaluate his management style, which some had criticized as inflexible.

Wally Hill, who stepped down Wednesday, was the third county administrative officer in as many years. Supervisors had hoped Hill would help rebuild the county's management team, which was depleted by a string of recent corruption scandals, and shore up county finances.

But some supervisors said Hill was too independent and often unwilling to accept guidance.

"Many board members attempted to share directions with him that they wanted to go. He was very accustomed in his prior employment of simply doing it his way," said Board Chairman Dennis Hansberger.

"As a consequence, he tended to follow his own counsel. In some places, some times, that was inappropriate."

Hill came to San Bernardino 11 months ago from Yuma, Ariz., where he was also top administrator.

In July, he unveiled a plan to make San Bernardino County the nation's best-run county.

He was paid nearly $190,000 annually and will receive four months' severance pay.

Attempts to reach Hill on Thursday were unsuccessful.

County Public Works Director Ken A. Miller will be the acting county administrative officer until Tuesday's board meeting, when supervisors will appoint an interim officer and discuss recruiting a permanent replacement.

"We want to aggressively look for an individual that can effectively understand and move into the position quickly and communicate effectively with us, and of course has strong financial management capabilities and skills," said Supervisor Patti Aguiar. "It's kind of a critical time for us."

She declined to comment on Hill's performance.

Aguiar was appointed to the board in January to serve out the term of her husband, who left to work for the Schwarzenegger administration.

County management has been depleted by retirements and fallout from corruption scandals. Over the past five years, more than 20 department heads and top administrators have left. Supervisors had hoped Hill would create a respected, top-flight team.

Hansberger said Hill was too focused on the future at the expense of present concerns.

For example, he said that when he asked Hill to look for ways to reduce costs at the county's health services agency, which spends several hundred million dollars annually, Hill responded that he would get to it after putting together a long-range strategic plan.

"I certainly respect the need to look into the future," Hansberger said. "But to only stand on the bow of a ship and look at the future -- if you don't watch the [stern], you're going to be in trouble."

Hansberger also said Hill was a very private person, and didn't "connect with people."

"If you were to ask everybody in county government, 'Have any of you ever had a social moment with Wally?,' I think the answer would be no," Hansberger said.

"The good news is he doesn't play favorites. The bad news is you need people to sit and talk to who will tell you when you screw up."

Hansberger said he had hoped to work with Hill on improving his performance, but that Hill decided to resign after several discussions with board members.

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