Leadership Called Key Criteria in Quest for Graves' Successor

Times Staff Writer

As San Diego County supervisors begin their quest to replace Chief Administrative Officer Clifford Graves, who resigned Wednesday, they should seek a leader proven to possess strong management skills, a person who's not afraid to speak his mind, a person who would not hesitate to fire a subordinate gone wrong.

That was the consensus offered Wednesday by several area political and business figures who have followed the county closely during the last year, as respect for Graves' authority waned and his departure became increasingly likely.

Members of the Board of Supervisors declined to comment in any detail Wednesday, saying that they would come to agreement later on what kind of person they want to fill Graves' position.

"We want a person who can do the job," Supervisor George Bailey said.

Supervisor Brian Bilbray said: "I'm looking for somebody to change an antiquated 1930 operation into a year 2000 spaceship into the future. You're taking something that's a leftover from an old process, and we're going into a transition."

The three other supervisors declined to comment.

Assemblyman Larry Stirling (R-San Diego), who had called repeatedly for Graves' resignation because of problems in two county medical institutions that use state funds, said the county will probably have to settle for less than the "mythical paragon" that every governmental body would like to hire.

Stirling described that myth as "someone who is very aggressive, who takes responsibility, who solves problems rather than creates them, someone who is loyal to the supervisors and also loyal to the employees."

Rather than writing such a job description, Stirling, a former San Diego city councilman, said, the supervisors should simply try to find a county that's run well now and hire its top administrator.

"If you want to know if the cook is good, you've got to taste the food," Stirling said.

William Egan, foreman of the 1984-85 county grand jury that all but called for Graves to resign, said the county ought to hire a top administrator who is "willing to take charge."

"They should find someone who, if he doesn't think people are doing a good job, he isn't reluctant to move them out and bring someone else in," Egan said.

Dorothy Migdal, the San Diego Chamber of Commerce's vice president for local government affairs, said the chief administrative officer's management skill and judgment in hiring subordinates are most important.

"It seems to me that Cliff was put into that position because he had good credentials in budgeting," Migdal said. "But his mistakes in management have finally caught up to him.

"They have to find someone who they have confidence in, someone with good management skills who knows how to hire good people. You really need a strong management team. One person can't do it alone."

Denise Lavell, also a member of the grand jury, said the county most needs an administrator willing to tell the Board of Supervisors when he believes the board has gone astray.

Lavell referred to a comment reprinted recently from an interview Graves had with The Times in 1981, when he said his job at county board meetings was to be "seen and not heard."

"That was a very telling remark," Lavell said. "That's abrogating his responsibility as a CAO. A lot of things sound good in the board chambers. There needs to be one person in there who is not in a political position and who is willing to tell the board that they'd reach the direction they want if they took a different route. We haven't seen that from Cliff."

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