Freewheeling Talks Make Leaders Out of LEAD Members

Times Staff Writer


Let's talk about LEAD--as in LEAD, San Diego Inc. What's it stand for? Leadership, Education, Awareness, Development. With that in mind, listen in to the seminar held Thursday in a drafty courtroom of the California Western Law School:

San Diego Chargers tight end Kellen Winslow is there, representing the crime victims' fund. Superior Court Judge James Malkus is there, sporting a mustache and holding court with characteristic aplomb. Alex Landon is there, representing The Defense (not the Charger kind, the legal kind). Melinda Lasater is there--chief of the Juvenile Court division of the district attorney's office. Rounding out the panel are U.S. Atty. Peter Nunez and Chris Ball, a San Diego police officer working a beat in Logan Heights.

Winslow pleads for stricter laws involving drug and sex offenders. Ball says that in five tough years he has learned what he's not permitted to do, that criminals arrested in the morning often show up on the street later that night.

Nunez says the courts are hopelessly overcrowded, that "justice delayed is justice denied." Malkus says child abuse, like the case of a Los Angeles day care center, occurs in similar centers here.

Landon warns that some reprimands are extremely harsh, that even so, some offenders no longer fret over threat of a lengthy sentence. Lasater says the Hillcrest Receiving Home has 10 beds to take care of all of the county's child abuse victims.

The dialogue crackles; disagreements abound. Soon the questions start popping, from one panelist to another and from the audience as well. The panel seems to say: The System is thoroughly screwed up. The audience wants to know why, and--can anything be done?

Maybe nothing, they are told.

But the questions asked and thoughts expressed made for a freewheeling day--one of nine such seminars held each year, sponsored by LEAD. The presenters are leaders of community groups. Those in the audience--those of LEAD--are in most cases, leaders themselves. Others fall into the category: Hopefuls. LEAD seminars are their way of getting educated, of "networking," of building a base as movers and shakers.

LEAD began in 1981 as the brainchild of community leaders who saw a need for developing and educating the best and the brightest of the city's young talent. Young in some cases might be a misnomer. In this year's harvest of 60 students--the yearly limit--LEAD has one 75-year-old. (Its youngest is 22.)

Its members include Norm Stamper, deputy chief of the San Diego Police Department; Kenneth Stahl, manager of personnel for Solar Turbines Inc.; Doug Sawyer, senior vice president of Great American First Savings Bank; Charlotte Hayes, director of counseling for San Diego State University; and Jo Abbey Briggs, director of Golden Door Cosmetics.

If that sounds "too Establishment," as some say it does, other members are Irma Castro, executive director of the Chicano Federation of San Diego County; Barbara Fielding, director of child development for Head Start; and Carol Rogoff Hallstrom, director of the Neighborhood Dispute Resolution Program of the San Diego Law Center.

LEAD alumni include Charlie Hahn, now the president of the San Diego Mental Health Assn.; Philip Blair, president of the Horton Plaza Theatre Foundation; and Jerome Groomes, a board member of the Neighborhood House Assn., a multipurpose social services agency in Southeast San Diego. The board of directors and advisory board include such names as San Diego Police Chief Bill Kolender, developer Ernest Hahn and Kim Fletcher, chairman of Home Federal Savings and Loan.

Members of LEAD have in common a $750-a-year tuition cost, which pays a third of the operating budget. The other two-thirds come from intense fund-raising efforts. LEAD is linked with 200 similar groups nationwide. At 25, Philadelphia's is the oldest.

Phil Klauber, co-founder and past president of LEAD, insists, however, that San Diego's isn't "an old boys' club," unlike legions of similar groups back East.

In some eyes, LEAD carries an establishment look.

The current group numbers, among others, 29 men, 31 women; 16 are business people, five are attorneys and three are educators. Fourteen live in North County, four in South County, three in East County. Some suggest privately that LEAD is too heavily slanted toward pro-development forces (hence the large North County contingent). Others say it's hardly representative of minorities. (This year's group has four Latinos, four blacks and one Asian.)

Maggie Potter, the bright young executive director, who came with a background of seven years in United Way, said the purpose of the group is not necessarily egalitarian.

"We're not really looking for racial balance," she said, "or for X number of males versus females. We're looking for community leaders. Period. We can't be criticized for being overly conservative or overly liberal, no more than the leaders of San Diego can be criticized for being overly liberal or conservative. But let's face it, most of the people who hold chairs in San Diego (board chairmen, etc.) are not overly liberal."

Ed Crawford was aware of that, and still is. Crawford is director of public affairs at Sharp Memorial and Sharp Cabrillo hospitals, a relative newcomer to San Diego. A kind, engaging man from Montgomery, Ala., he admitted to a sense of apprehension in entering LEAD.

Crawford feared at first that LEAD might be an outgrowth of the Chamber of Commerce, a "rah-rah" corps dedicated to nothing but the selling and all-out growth of San Diego.

"But it really is an objective look at all the different aspects of a community," he said. "I've thoroughly enjoyed it."

Crawford also is impressed with the respect of LEAD in high places. "In the afternoon after the morning (Mayor Roger) Hedgecock was indicted, he shows up to speak to LEAD," he said with a chuckle. "I think he would have had good reason to miss, don't you?"

Not everyone shares Crawford's view that LEAD lacks in boosteristic overtones. The critics, who appear to be few in number and who, for the most part, speak privately, also cite the lack of ethnic and liberal balance.

"At times it really does seem like 'yuppie' upward mobility at all costs," said one former member. "I think most of the folks are there for good reasons, but one young attorney I know told me flat-out he was in it to fatten a resume. Said he wanted to make junior partner."

At times, LEAD seminars--the bread and butter of the group's agenda--seem to reflect a yuppie (young urban professional) ambiance. Phrases such as "viable alternative," "networking" and "quantum leap" fill the air.

Questioning is, at times, thorough and fierce, even rough. Dissent--rather than rah-rah--seems the concern, if not the priority.

George Mitrovich, president of the City Club and a member of the LEAD Advisory Board, praised the group's intensity and called Potter a "very capable director.

"I know of one person who did not get in," he said. "He was very disappointed. I guess he finally figured out LEAD turned him down for one reason--he just wasn't serious enough, took it too lightly. He realized later, I think, what a serious goof he had made. He should have been serious. It's a serious group."

Crawford said he was surprised at how aggressive the LEAD selection committee was. "The first question they asked of me," he said, "was, 'How long are you planning to stay in San Diego?' I guess I looked surprised. I said, 'Forever. Why?' They said, 'We don't want you or need you if you're planning to leave.' "

It was that feeling that fueled the beginnings of LEAD. Klauber, co-founder and past president and retired vice president of San Diego Gas and Electric, longed for a group like LEAD out of growing fear that San Diego was losing the best and the brightest to the call of other cities. Formed in 1977 was the forerunner--the San Diego Community Leadership Development Program. The organization languished (partly from lack of money), so in 1980 Klauber and others got together--and got serious.

Volunteerism is now a LEAD main deed. In the seminars (which recess during summer), students are saturated with information. Raw material is generated by members themselves, in the form of reports led by task forces. Students divide into subgroups, then burrow into neighborhoods, asking questions about law, education, health and human services, growth, development and planning.

In the end, they're encouraged to volunteer, "to serve," Klauber said, "in meaningful ways."

LEAD is aided by a kind of establishment welcome mat. One member, seeking insight into the county prison system, got pretty much of a closed door until writing a note on LEAD letterhead. The door was immediately opened.

Door opening works to an advantage--information flows more freely. Grace Miller, coordinator of staff education and development for UC San Diego Medical Center, said her "eyes have been opened" by LEAD. Miller is one of this year's members.

"Maybe I had been naive to the issues," said the native San Diegan. "Maybe unaware of the problems of growth and economy. In a way, I feel like an ostrich, not knowing the problems--the meaning, the magnitude. LEAD enlightened me, gave me a far broader perspective."

Miller claimed to have learned much more about the rapid growth of North County and the problems that promotes. She garnered an opinion, she said, listening not only to developers but also to passionate Sierra Club members who argued their positions in an "equal" way. Freewheeling, she said, was the only description--one Thursday's seminar also fit nicely.

Andre Henderson is a large man with booming voice, founder of Sunrise Convenience Stores and associate pastor of Bayview Baptist Church. Henderson praised LEAD for exposing people like him--he is black--to "all facets of San Diego, all leaders of San Diego. We give the big shots an opportunity to say what they think," he said. "And we get a chance to question."

Henderson, for one, isn't bothered by the so-called lack of racial balance. "LEAD never said it was trying for that," he said, "only for the most qualified people. It lacks 'more minorities,' I fear, simply because not enough minorities have bothered to apply."

Henderson is one of dozens of LEAD members--not to mention a 130-person alumni club--who cites "networking" as a reason to belong.

"Let's face it," he said. "You've got to meet people--you've got to have exposure, information, ideas --to even think of effecting change. For my money, LEAD gets the job done, in a fair and lively way."

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