Los Angeles County has narrowed its search for a chief administrative officer to four men from outside local government, with sources saying Tuesday that the leading candidate is the former top administrator of San Diego County, David E. Janssen.
In all, more than 200 people from around the country have applied for the top administrative spot in the nation's largest county government. Former Chief Administrative Officer Sally Reed resigned in May to become head of the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Also on the list of four finalists sent to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is San Diego County's chief financial officer, Robert Booker, who worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District for 36 years before retiring in late 1992 and taking the San Diego job.
Rounding out the list are James M. Bourey, the former top administrator of the county that includes Minneapolis, Minn., and Hector Rivera, the top administrator in the North Carolina county that includes Greensboro.
Ron Deaton, chief legislative analyst for the city of Los Angeles, was considered a front-runner but withdrew last month after the City Council gave him a substantial pay raise. No top-ranking Los Angeles County administrators sought the post and the lower-level county managers who applied were not considered serious contenders, sources said.
A panel of personnel officials interviewed about a dozen semifinalists before choosing the finalists. The supervisors will begin interviews next week. County officials said the field remains open for any of the four to win the job. Technically, the supervisors could choose someone who is not on the list, said county Human Resources Director Michael Henry.
But several sources said Janssen, 51, is clearly the leading contender, given his experience running the state's second-largest county for four years. Janssen left that job in March after an amicable split with a recently elected majority of county supervisors who wanted to appoint their own administrator.
Janssen also headed the state Department of General Services under former Democratic Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. from 1977 to 1983.
"He is the lead candidate, based on his experience, the number of years he has been in San Diego and his knowledge of California," said one official. "He truly is far and above the rest."
Janssen had no comment on whether he is considered a front-runner for a job that is considered politically challenging, given the potentially adversarial relationship between the chief administrator and the supervisors. Reed cited such battles as one of several reasons for leaving.
"Working for Los Angeles County would be a real challenge and opportunity," Janssen said. "Because of its size, it has a significant role in what is happening in Sacramento and Washington. The evolution of federal programs--including health care and welfare--are local issues, and L.A. County ought to be a player in that."
Among his greater accomplishments in San Diego, Janssen said, were "managing five years of impossible budgets given the recession" and dealing with the state's raid on county property tax revenues without suffering a downgrade in that county's bond rating.
Janssen, who is married and has one daughter, left government to become a consultant for the Price Family Foundation, helping young people better understand local government.
Times staff writer Tony Perry contributed to this story.