A Tale of Two CEO searches

Steven Greenhut and Frank Mickadeit were giddy with glee to write a Sunday editorial and a Thursday column to take shots at the “arrogant,” “secretive” and “self-interested”  Larry Agran and his “cabal” over a recent appeals judge ruling that awarded legal fees to Irvine City Council members and Great Park Board members Christina Shea and Steven Choi.  The pair sued the Great Park boad (in effect, suing themselves) for access to more than 150 resumes of possible candidates for the Great Park CEO’s position.  After losing the initial court ruling, which said that because the pair settled they weren’t prevailing parties and not entitled to legal fee reimbursment.  The appeals judge disaqgreed and this blog is calling for the Great Park Board to appeal this decision (yet these words are never used to describe Curt Pringle or his machine in Anaheim…but I digress).

From Mickadeit’s column:

Frank Mickadeit

Frank Mickadeit

“They (Shea/Choi) had sued to get access to the resumes of the people being considered by a GP subcommittee for park CEO. They had to sue because, in a move that would be jaw-dropping anywhere but Irvine, Agran had shut down access to Shea and Choi because they weren’t on the committee – thanks to Agran.”

Some background on case this in a minute. But the move is not so jaw-dropping as Frank might suggest.

more after the jump:

It’s too bad neither Greenhut or Mickadeit have a bad thing to say about the OCTA’s recent search for their new CEO.  Former Caltrans’ chief Will Kempton was hired to head up the OCTA.  The OCTA board put together a search committee who used the public information from a recent CEO search by LA Metro and they reviewed the credentials of five to 10 individuals.  The committee recommended Kempton who was then unanimously approved by the full board.  It’s not clear that the search committee even had resumes to review, meaning any other OCTA board member would have nothing to sue for.

In contrast, the only difference between the OCTA search and the Great Park CEO search was that the Great Park Board used a recruiting agency.  The recruiter interviewed each member of the GP Board to ascertain the traits they wanted the CEO to have and then the recruiter paired down the resumes of those candidates that matched the full board’s criteria with the skill set of each candidate for presentation to the Great Park Board search committee. 

The first finalist was Kurt Haunfelner, described by Greenhut as a “close friend of Agran’s.  The connection between Agran and Haunfelner, who is repeatedly described by Shea as “Agran’s best friend,” is not as strong as Greenhut describes.  Haunfelner is the VP of external affairs  for the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.  His brother worked for Agran 20 years ago and while Agran and Haunfelner know each other, to call them “longtime friends” is a stretch at best (a little reporting here please?).  There’s little evidence the two men spoke very much at all over the past 20 years.  This negates the fact that Haunfelner was a very qualified candidate who turned down the job.

After a second candidate, a city employee, also declined, Shea and Choi wanted to be more involved and althought they were not part of the search committee, they wanted to see all of the 150 resumes.  Shea, being the same city councilor who wanted everyone’s email address for a newsletter, wanted all the resumes.  Say goodbye to any privacy for the candidates. 

In regards to the OCTA search, no one on the board asked to see all the resumes and in discussions with the nice PR people at OCTA, it’s not clear *any* resumes were reviewed other than a summary of candidates by the search committee (all of whom are Republican).  None of the OCTA board members sued the search committee for access to resumes.  And the search committee’s recommendation was uniamously passed by the full board.

Now C-level executive searches are tricky things.  They require discretion and candidates applying for these positions are entitled to privacy. 

I have no problem with the way either the OCTA or the Great Park Board conducted their CEO searches.  I think the searches and candidate reviews were done with a high degree of professionalism and done in the same sort of manner one would expect a private sector company to find a new top executive. In both cases, government acted like a business (isn;t that what Republicans demand of government all the time?).

The difference here — the members of the OCTA board (save one) are all Republicans.  And Agran, a Democrat, heads the Great Park Board.  Clearly, neither Greenhut or Mickadeit applied the same standard to the OCTA search that they did to the great Park CEO search.  When was the last time either columnist criticized people like Curt Pringle or Bill Campbell using words like “arrogant” or “cabal”? 

If the Great Park search was secretive, then so was the OCTA search. 

Let’s take it a step further — no one from the City of Irvine serves on the OCTA Board.  But both Shea and Choi are Irvine Council members.  Neither of them have complained about the selection of Mr. Kempton as CEO or how he came to be offered the job.  I suggest they sue the OCTA board for the resumes of the other five to nine candidates.  The whole thing strikes me as hypocritical, but there’s an answer for that too. 

IOKIYAR — It’s OK if you’re a Republican. And Democrats are always the bad guys whenever Register columnists write about them.