Maybe the interpretation of Paul McIntosh as an old gruff is working for the guy.

The 6-foot-4, 285-pounder can appear to be quite stern, an edge that likely helps him as he goes to battle for counties as the Executive Director of the California State Association of Counties.

The only thing about that crotchety depiction … it’s simply not true.

Turns out, McIntosh is just one big softie.

“One thing colleagues would be surprised to hear is probably what a softie I am,” McIntosh said. “Because I am 6-foot-4, around 285 and have always been the boss.”

The 58-year-old said people some times don’t realize how approachable he is.

“I have a stern look because I am focused,” McIntosh joked. “I am not an old meanie and curmudgeon either, I like to have fun.”

Need proof? Just check out his musical playlist.

His iPod is 98 percent classical … classic rock that is. From the Beatles to Pink Floyd, the local government leader keeps his satellite radio tuned to “Classic Vinyl.”

Though McIntosh didn’t go to Woodstock, he called himself the “typical midwestern teenager.” He was busy taking part in the more traditional interests of any young man growing up in Indiana: playing basketball in a barn loft.

Though he joked that he is “a young” 58 years old, McIntosh is more of a golfer than a hoopster these days. He’s an 8-handicap, but said he shot an 87 on his most recent visit to the links. For a man working in local government, it’s good to know he’s a straight shooter.

“It’s a mentally relaxing sport,” McIntosh said. “I don’t tend to get frustrated on the golf course, but I enjoy the environment and the mental focus. You forget about all the other problems you have.”

It’s been a good outlet for McIntosh in what’s been a tumultuous year for counties.

The challenge of his job is all part of the appeal though.

McIntosh became a county administrator in 1988 in El Dorado County. He recalls sitting in the chair on his very first day and thinking, “What do I do now?”

“There is nothing I did in my life that trained me for this job,” said McIntosh, who had previously been in the Navy during Vietnam and graduated from Indiana University with a Masters Degree in Public Management, followed by a government internship.

“All the education was good, but nothing trains you for managing an organization as complex as a California county.”

Now, McIntosh has more than 25 years of local government experience, serving as Chief Administrative Officer of Butte County and El Dorado County. He held the position of President of the County Administrative Officers Association of California, in 1994, and was appointed to the Supreme Court of California Judicial Advisory Committee on Trial Court Funding.  He also served as County Administrator for Hernando County, Fla. and County Manager of Mohave County, Ariz. McIntosh was recognized as a Credentialed Manager by the International City/County Managers Association in 2002.

With a long list of other boards, committees and associations, McIntosh puts in heavy time serving counties.

“County government is the best service you can possibly do because it’s close to the people and all politics are local,” McIntosh said.

“Counties provide programs essential to people’s well being. Government service is for people whose lives are on the margin on a daily basis.  I feel my career has been extremely well spent on public service.”

McIntosh said he got his sense of service from John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.

“I think Bobby Kennedy’s assassination affected me more than JFK because I was older,” McIntosh said. “To have him snuffed out like that, honestly I cried – I was 17 at the time.

“I thought that he challenged people to public service. That’s where I got my drive to do something better for people and make our country better.”

Now, McIntosh continues to challenge his colleagues and those who threaten county government in California – even as the softie that he is.

To read more about Paul McIntosh, visit the California State Association of Counties Web site.