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Board to try sharing some power

The five top county officials are about to give an appointed administrator a lot more clout. The current system `values gridlock,' says one.

March 11, 2007|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

Squirreled away on the top floor of the drab, eight-story Hall of Administration downtown, Los Angeles County's five supervisors work in a building suggestive of the government they were elected to run: sprawling, confusing to navigate and somewhat dysfunctional.

In office together for nearly 11 years, the supervisors -- three Democrats and two Republicans in the officially nonpartisan posts, one a black woman, one a Latina -- wield enormous power.

As members of the county Board of Supervisors, Mike Antonovich, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, Don Knabe, Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky oversee a government responsible for scores of services, including courts and jails, hospitals and public health, and adoptions and foster care. Their constituents are the 10 million residents of the nation's most populous county.

Now the board is poised to take the extraordinary step of ceding some of its power to an appointed chief administrative officer. The supervisors' 4-to-1 vote Feb. 13 set in motion the shift of some authority. Although it would require approval from voters to become permanent, the move was a board majority's acknowledgment that the county system needs an overhaul.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 13, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 71 words Type of Material: Correction
Mike Antonovich: An article in Sunday's California section profiling members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors said that decorations on the walls of Supervisor Mike Antonovich's office included a framed letter from his "hero," inventor and visionary Buckminster Fuller. The article should have identified Antonovich's hero as conservative columnist and National Review magazine founder William F. Buckley Jr., who sent the letter that is framed in the supervisor's office.

"What we have to do is solve a problem right now," Burke said at a recent meeting. "If you want to say we don't have a problem, you have something over your head, a bag over your head."

County department heads report directly to the elected supervisors, who can fire them, leaving the top administrator with diluted authority. Supervisors generally have avoided interfering in each other's districts -- each with about 2 million residents.

The responsibility for many departments falls to all five supervisors, but some duties are divvied up among them for organizational reasons.

"There is no one person in the county who's responsible for the functioning of county government," said Yaroslavsky, the board chairman. "We have a system that values gridlock and abhors decisiveness."

He and Knabe led the charge for a more powerful chief executive, who would oversee department heads and have hiring and firing ability, albeit subject to board approval.

The change comes after the board struggled to find a candidate to replace retiring Chief Administrative Officer David E. Janssen. Few eligible people seemed interested in a job with muddled authority to run a county with seemingly intractable problems -- among them, the largest homeless population in the nation, a health services department on the brink of financial collapse, crowded jails and a system for juvenile offenders that is under fire from the federal government. Two people who were offered the chief administrative job turned it down.

Among the county's most persistent problems was Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center near Watts. Plagued with years of mismanagement and dangerous lapses in patient care, the hospital nearly lost its federal funding when it failed a key inspection last fall. Forced into action, the board downsized the hospital and put it under the management of another county hospital; it has been renamed Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital.

Not long before they embarked on the restructuring, all five supervisors agreed to rare sit-down interviews. From those conversations emerged a portrait of five elected officials with distinct ideologies, management styles and personalities.

Burke and Knabe are chiefly concerned with constituent services, such as neighborhood improvements. Molina and Yaroslavsky look more at bigger-picture issues. Antonovich, the most ideological, tends to hew closely to his conservative political views. He cast the only "no" vote against the proposed government restructuring, believing authority should stay with elected officials.

With divergent priorities, the supervisors lack a unified strategy to tackle county issues, the interviews showed. Each, however, has strong views on how best to oversee the county.



Mike Antonovich

Age: 67

District: Fifth

Party: Republican

Resume: Longest-serving of current board members; previously a state assemblyman, chairman of state Republican Party, campaigner for Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, community college trustee, teacher

Leadership style: Committed to local projects, such as building libraries, combined with a strong conservative ideology.

Key issues: Public safety, adoption of foster children. He likens an expanded county administrator's job to the colonial government under King George III, and opposed the Grand Avenue downtown Los Angeles redevelopment plan.

Proudest achievements: Reopening Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar in 1986; launching a program to disarm parolees

Family: Married, with a daughter, 5, and a son, 7; lives in Glendale

Hobbies: Going on biannual horseback rides in his district; attending children's sporting events; volunteering in his Lutheran congregation

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