Los Angeles County Chain of Command

A feud between Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, pictured, and former CEO William T Fujioka helped spur a return to a weaker CEO.

By Abby Sewell
July 7, 2015

They are called the “five little kings.”

Each represents a constituency of about 2 million people. Together, they oversee America’s largest local government agency, with a $27-billion budget and 100,000 employees.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors decided to grant themselves even more power over the working of the vast bureaucracy.

The board unanimously approved a plan that would weaken the role of the county’s chief executive officer and give the five board members the authority to hire and fire department heads and work more directly within county government’s myriad agencies.

The shift comes after years of clashes between some supervisors and the chief executive officer, and after the election last year of two new board members — Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl — who have already taken an active role in key policy issues.

The change back to a weaker executive has many wondering whether the supervisors’ new power will result in more streamlined, decisive management or simply create more meddling by the elected officials and politicize the workings of government.

“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?”

Tuesday’s vote represents a reversal for the Board of Supervisors, which in 2007 gave the unelected chief executive officer more powers, including day-to-day management responsibilities and the authority to hire and fire department heads with board approval. Those changes were sparked in part by complaints that the supervisors were micromanaging the departments and giving conflicting marching orders, and that there was no single leader to hold accountable for the success or failure of initiatives.

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