Candidates hoping to succeed Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky addressed a range of chronic challenges facing the county board Thursday evening and offered different prescriptions for reforming the governing panel.
Meeting in their third debate, the candidates agreed that the county needs to build more supportive housing for the homeless to reduce the number of people living on the street. They also voiced support for initiatives to break up bureaucratic "silos" separating agencies and making it harder to deliver healthcare to the needy and help for families in the troubled foster care system.
But differences emerged on the approach to solving those problems and how the elected county board should be structured.
Former state lawmaker Sheila Kuehl said the foster care system will benefit from a planned addition of 450 social workers to reduce caseloads. She said more experienced social workers should be encouraged to do home safety visits that now often fall to the newest hires.
Defense lawyer John Duran, a West Hollywood councilman, said hiring large numbers of county employees would cause salaries and pension costs to surge. Instead, the county should consider hiring more private social workers to help manage caseloads, he said.
Former Malibu Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich suggested hiring a child welfare czar who would oversee operations to help coordinate responsibilities for protecting children that are spread over several agencies. Former Santa Monica council member Bobby Shriver said he supported "performance-based contracting" to improve the county's system of foster homes.
"As the kids get better, you get paid more," he said.
Times journalist Patt Morrison, who moderated the L.A. Press Club debate in Hollywood, asked the candidates if they would be willing to give up power by expanding the number of board members. Each of the five supervisors represent roughly 2 million people, which some critics say is too many to be responsive.
Ulich and Shriver said they would consider the idea. Duran and Kuehl, however, expressed doubt about a larger board. Duran noted a similar proposal was turned down by voters, and Kuehl said a bigger board would be more costly without ensuring better representation.
Kuehl and Shriver sparred again over campaign finances, with Kuehl pointedly asking Shriver if any independent fundraising groups have been formed to support his campaign.
Shriver said he was aware of at least one such group, but criticized Kuehl for implying that he has some control over their formation or operation. By law, so-called independent expenditure groups, which can legally raise and spend unlimited amounts, cannot coordinate with the candidates they favor.
"They could file for you tomorrow," Shriver said. "And I will not chastise you for it."