Newly configured county board removes acting CEO at first meeting

Acting L.A. County CEO Brence Culp removed; supervisors say move intended to avoid 'appearance of favoritism'

At their first meeting following a major election turnover, the new Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors removed the county's acting chief executive and appointed a new one.

Two new supervisors, Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, were sworn in Monday to replace retiring Supervisors Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky. They joined the three remaining supervisors -- Michael D. Antonovich, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe -- in voting to make the change.

Since June, when longtime chief executive William T Fujioka announced that he would also be retiring this week, the supervisors have been searching for a permanent replacement. In the meantime, they appointed Fujioka's second-in-command, Brence Culp, to serve as acting CEO. Culp also indicated that she would be interested in the permanent position.

In a closed-door meeting Tuesday, during which they were to discuss how to go about appointing a permanent CEO, the supervisors voted unanimously to approve a proposal by Antonovich to replace Culp with Sachi Hamai, who has been executive officer to the board and the clerk responsible for meeting agendas and administrative tasks.

The supervisors also asked the county's top attorney to draft a policy that would bar appointing anyone to an acting department head position who is also in the running for the permanent post. 

“This is the best way to ensure a level playing field in the recruitment and selection of the [CEO] position and to avoid a chilling effect on qualified candidates from applying for the position,” Antonovich -- the current board chairman -- said in his motion.

In an interview, Solis said she was concerned that having an insider in the acting position while also in the running for the permanent CEO job might discourage other candidates.

Antonovich and Ridley-Thomas had been absent from the meeting in which the other board members voted to appoint Culp to the acting position. Solis and Kuehl had not yet joined the board.

Knabe, the only sitting supervisor who voted for Culp's appointment, declined to comment on the move to replace her Tuesday.

Ridley-Thomas echoed Antonovich's statements, saying the board "did not want to give the impression that anyone had an advantage" in the search for a new permanent CEO. But he said, "The decision should not be interpreted as reflecting unfavorably on Brence Culp, who is a very viable candidate for the position, in my view."

Culp said in an email, "The Board has appointed Ms. Hamai and we will fully support her in that role."

Retired chief executive Fujioka said he understood the board’s concerns, but questioned the timing of the decision.

“Making a change at this point in time, when the budgets are being developed for a critical fiscal year, is probably not the best decision,” he said.

Antonovich and Ridley-Thomas have been proponents of scaling back the powers of the next top executive and giving the board more direct control over departments.

Culp will revert to her previous position as chief deputy to the CEO. Hamai could not be reached for comment.

Follow Abby Sewell on Twitter at @sewella.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


7:45 p.m.: This post was updated with Culp's comment.

8:07 p.m.: This post was updated with Fujioka's comment.

This story was originally published at 7:34 p.m.