Santa Barbara County CEO Chandra Wallar will not come back to her post after her contract expires in October, the Board of Supervisors unanimously decided Tuesday. The brief announcement was made by County Counsel Dennis Marshall after a private, closed session hearing.
Wallar came under fire after news leaked out of Orange County in mid-February that she was pursuing the CEO job in that county. After a long, drawn-out public process, the two sides ultimately disagreed on compensation with Wallar declining the offer from the OC board for a salary of $254,000. The compensation package was a bump in pay compared to her Santa Barbara gig, where she makes $232,000, but below what similar agencies pay their CEOs. She was seeking $290,000 a year. The negotiations came after Wallar had asked the Santa Barbara board for a contract extension.
Wallar — who oversees a bureaucracy of 3,800 employees and a budget of $820 million — had been angling for the OC job without notifying her bosses here in Santa Barbara, a move that didn’t go over very well. The supervisors were caught off-guard and, for nearly a month as the situation with OC played out, department heads and managers were left wondering if their boss was leaving.
She didn’t, and Wallar told the board of supervisors it was “never an issue of wanting to leave SB but more of a desire to end my career in a larger and challenging organization.” Much of the consternation remained, however, and apparently the damage was done. When asked in a brief interview during a break in the board’s Tuesday meeting if she thought the way her negotiations unfolded with Orange County had anything to do with the board’s decision, Wallar said she would leave that answer up to boardmembers. Board Chair Salud Carbajal said it was a personnel matter, and he would let the announcement speak for itself.
Wallar, who knew the supervisors were discussing the issue behind closed doors, said she hadn’t had time to digest the decision. Wallar could elect not to serve out her contract, which allows for a 60-day notice period to quit. She said she hadn’t given the idea of quitting early a lot of thought, but that she “signed a contract to serve until the end of October, and that’s what I intend to do.”
After more than a decade with Michael Brown at the reins, supervisors had high hopes for Wallar. She came to Santa Barbara in 2010 after a long stint at San Diego County, where she was a deputy chief administrative officer, overseeing a staff of 1,550 and a budget in excess of $400 million.
During her time here, she has worked to revamp the budget process, pursued various avenues of increasing revenue for the county, and tried to find efficiencies in how the county government was run. But she’s endured year after year of budget deficits, and struggled to lead effectively, many say, micromanaging where she doesn’t need to.