LA County was smaller and simpler in 1939.
Back in 2007, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors realized that, as politicians, they weren't the ideal choice to run the nation's biggest network of local public services. The board told the county's professional chief executive to do all that heavy lifting — with added powers such as hiring and firing department heads — and that just he should report to them. But that made it harder for the elected supervisors and their staffs to meddle in personnel decisions, shift money around and act as day to day managers. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, in particular, has been trying to move the reins of power back to the board, and on Tuesday a new majority finally struck the blow. Department heads now report up to the five politically motivated supervisors and the chief executive's office has been weakened. Like it was before the 2007 reform.
So if you manage the country's largest system of local hospitals, or juggle the very complicated delivery of mental health or foster care services, you now have to keep your elected supervisor happy at the same time. I think we know which priority will prove to be the most demanding.
From today's LA Times story:
"In the short term, there will be a lot less conflict between the supervisors and the CEO's office," said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A. "The question is what's it going to do for the daily operations… They won't know when they're too involved. They'll think their involvement is just right. The other shoe to drop is how will it affect everybody else's ability to do their job?"
Former Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina, who had supported the stronger chief executive officer, said weakening the role now may be largely symbolic, because the board never fully gave up its hands-on role in agency operations.
"Everybody meddled. We all meddled, one way or the other," Molina said.
Yaroslavsky agreed that board members had continued to micromanage — even going as far as having their aides ghostwrite recommendations that were supposed to be coming from department heads. He added that some initiatives were stalled because of power struggles between supervisors and the chief executive.
Yaroslavsky supports the creation of an elected county executive. Others have proposed increasing the size of the Board of Supervisors so at least they have some public accountability