L.A. County supervisors revive debate over management structure

L.A. County supervisors revive debate over management structure
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich wants to scale back the power of the county's chief executive. (Luis Sinco)

Two Los Angeles County supervisors have revived a debate over how the county's top layer of management should be structured, a move that could have repercussions for the selection of a new chief executive for the nation's largest local government.

Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Sheila Kuehl are proposing to repeal a reorganization approved in 2007 that strengthened the role of the county's top executive. The proposed motion, released Wednesday, also calls on the interim CEO to recommend a new management structure.

Last year, Antonovich and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas proposed the county revert back to a system in which various department heads reported directly to the board, rather than through the CEO. The earlier system provided more accountability, they argued.

The plan died because it failed to win the support of a third supervisor on the five-member board. Since then, Kuehl and Supervisor Hilda Solis have replaced former supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina.

Proponents of the current structure say it provides a buffer between department heads and board members, preventing -- at least in theory -- undue meddling by elected officials.

Kuehl had previously said she preferred to keep the strong executive system. But in a telephone interview Wednesday she said, in practice, board members often talk to department heads directly.

Kuehl said the board may want to create a new, "hybrid system" in which the top county executive would retain power over some areas and not others.

"So far, it's been posited as an either-or, and I'm not so sure it has to be," she said.


Kuehl said she would like to see the CEO handle "administrative trivia" and leave the board free to deal with policy questions.

Antonovich said in an interview that the reorganization adopted in 2007 "was intended to be a trial period."

The proposal by Kuehl and Antonovich would ask interim CEO Sachi Hamai to recommend a new structure that "facilitates increased communication and collaboration, streamlines governance and eliminates unnecessary layers of management, and allows the Board of Supervisors to concentrate on establishing policy and ensuring effective service delivery."

The proposed changes also would make permanent recent changes in the CEO office, including the elimination of five deputy CEO positions that oversaw "clusters" of agencies and issues, such as public safety, children and family well-being, municipal services and public health.

Antonovich said the deputy positions were "costly, very bureaucratic and delayed the ability to focus on issues that would be coming before the board."

Both supervisors said they thought the search for a permanent CEO to replace William T Fujioka, who retired last year, should be delayed until the board has worked out the duties of the position.

Ridley-Thomas, who still wants the departments to report directly to the board, said he supports the approach proposed by Kuehl and Antonovich. "We will get to the same place that had been originally intended," he said.

The other two supervisors declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment on the proposal, which is slated for a vote at Tuesday's meeting.

Follow Abby Sewell on Twitter at @sewella for more county government news.