LOS ANGELES -- Richard B. Dixon, admired by many for his support of new financing techniques, announced yesterday he would resign as chief administrative officer of Los Angeles County.
Mr. Dixon said Tuesday in a letter to the board of supervisors that he would leave his post as head administrator of the nation's largest county by year's end. The announcement comes after a grand jury report last month accused him of misspending public funds and local officials called for his removal.
"I'm leaving because I have clearly become a source of divisiveness rather than unity," Mr. Dixon, a 34-year veteran of county service, said in the letter, which was sent to the board hours before a scheduled hearing on the grand jury report.
Mr. Dixon said he would remain in office until the resolution of problems surrounding the county's proposed $13 billion budget and $2 billion deficit.
Mr. Dixon is respected by many municipal market participants for guiding the county through several complex bond financings, including taxable and overseas sales.
As Los Angeles County treasurer from 1984 to 1987, he lobbied vigorously for municipals' tax exemption after passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986. However, because of concern about future restrictions on such debt, he also pushed the county to make inroads into the taxable markets.
He is a recent past president of the Government Finance Officers Association and was named the nation's outstanding county executive by City and State newspaper in 1988.
"I would say this is a substantial loss for Los Angeles County," said Jeffrey L. Esser, executive director of the finance officers group. "Clearly, they had, in my view, one of the best."
Mr. Dixon is "professional, smart," and was a "fantastic president, [for GFOA], one of the best I've ever worked with," Mr. Esser said.
Mr. Dixon is still a member of the association's executive board and could take advantage of a clause which allows a public official to remain a member for six months after he resigns.
Some of the more complex financings done by Los Angeles County include a taxable deal sold in 1985, a tax-exempt issue sold in 1986 to reduce the county's pension liability, a taxable note program, and a $100 million yen-denominated debt issue.
"Mr. Dixon has always been very supportive. He encouraged us to take those first steps and do financings people haven't done before," said Sharon Yonashiro, finance director in Los Angeles County. "He was a motivating factor."
However, in the last few months Mr. Dixon has been an embattled figure, attempting to defend criticism from the local press and politicians about a $6.1 million renovation of his office. A local grand jury investigation called Mr. Dixon "one of the most powerful public administrators in America," and charged him with unchecked control over millions of dollars of public funds.
Other critics said Mr. Dixon indulged in executive bonuses and perks such as bulletproof cars with chauffeurs.
But admirers said his managerial style of running the county like a large corporation produced an efficient governmental entity and earned the respect of municipal market participants.
Two of the five county supervisors, Gloria Molina and Deane Dana, recently called for Mr. Dixon's resignation. Yvonne Braithwaite Burke and state Sen. Diane Watson, D-Los Angeles, the two candidates vying to replace retiring Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, have both said they would fire Mr. Dixon.
"We knew it was only a matter of time until he left," said Judy Hammond, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles County. "Whether he was wrong or right in what he did, it didn't matter. It had become a political issue."