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A Hatchetman for All Seasons

-A Cat Can Look At A King
-The Second Coming
-The Legacy of Larry Prior
-The Last Gobble.

A Cat Can Look at a King:
(I Get My First Look At The New CAO):

The Board of Supervisors of San Diego County hired Larry Prior III to help make changes. Some hailed him as a reformer, others called him "a hatchet man". At the time when I first saw him in person  Mr. Prior had already shown himself to be a dynamic and charismatic leader:  he had pushed through the sale of a white-elephant trash disposal system,  and given the County needed cash assets and a better credit rating. There were rumors that "heads rolled" when he was around, but one of my union's paid staff had met with him and had told me that he was "a nice guy."
I'm just an ordinary line worker, and I don't often get a chance to see important people in person, so when we were told about a "Town Meeting" in January 1998 meeting, I went, even if it meant I would have to work unpaid overtime later to catch up.
I wasn't sure what to expect, but people had given me questions to ask and I wanted to be open-minded.
The idea was that employees would have a chance to ask Mr. Prior about his plans for the direction of County operations and government, but my memory is that mostly Mr. Prior talked about his "vision for the County." The meeting I attended was held at a site near Lake Murray and was attended by people from all County departments, but it was only one of many meetings scheduled for different locations.
As we entered the auditorium, we were told that if we didn't want to be videotaped we could sit in a small area towards the back. There were cameras set up aimed at the audience. I sat in the "visible" area since I had nothing to hide, but I couldn't help feeling a bit intimidated
I was impressed at first. The CAO appeared intelligent and open. My attitude quickly changed; however, when another worker asked him about  making our position's pay comparable to that of other counties. I expected a political non-answer, but instead he said something like "When I get a question like that, I always say that I'll be glad to pay your busfare to the other County..." I felt that was a cheap shot and a clear warning that the new CAO's policy was "my way or the road." This impression was later reinforced by his telling the audience just how many people he had authority to fire, and how we didn't need people on board who didn't "walk the walk and talk the talk."
I don't think lineworkers were convinced by his explanation of why he had started management bonuses, and I remember thinking how nervous some of the gaggle of his support staff looked.

(The Second Coming)

I was to see the CAO a second time in another Town Hall meeting, this time near Lindo Lake, on December 2nd, 1998. This time the meeting was just for members of our department, and there were no cameras, and few staff support people. 
The mood was entirely different. People in the audience were emotionally blaming the CAO's reforms for everything that was wrong with the Department. I couldn't help thinking that no one could have done that much damage without help. I also remember being horrified to find out that top management had apparently not been aware of the failure of some of the key programs that had been privatized.
The next year the CAO asked the Board of Supervisors to increase severance pay for the county's top executives from six to 12 months of base pay. Not too long after that the CAO quit to join the private sector.

The Legacy of Larry Prior

An unofficial poll taken in early 1999 indicated that Larry Prior had overtaken Dianne Jacobs to win first place in  "Most Disliked Person In County Government" -- at least in the office where I work. Personally, I think this is unfair. I  think we should remember who hired him and who gave him direction-- and keep in mind that most of them are up for reelection next year.

The Last Gobble

Here is a scan of a Thanksgiving card which had a limited circulation in late 1998.


Inside Left

Inside Right

  The County of

San Diego Would

Like to Wish All

Employees a



So We're

giving you

the biggest


we've ever


thanksgiving.JPG (48206 bytes)


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