A Cat Can Look at a
(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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a scan of a Thanksgiving card which
had a limited circulation in late 1998.
The County of
San Diego Would
Like to Wish All