Santa Barbara County CEO Chandra Wallar at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting (February 19, 2013)

Paul Wellman

Santa Barbara County CEO Chandra Wallar at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting (February 19, 2013)

Greener Grass in Orange County?

Santa Barbara’s Chief Executive Drops Last-Minute Bombshell on Board of Supervisors

Tuesday, February 19, 2013
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Santa Barbara County’s increasingly embattled chief executive Chandra Wallar all but put the county Board of Supervisors on notice early Tuesday morning that she’ll be taking a job as chief executive for Orange County pending final approval by the Orange County supervisors. Wallar’s notice to the S.B. supervisors came via a brief email sent just five minutes before they heard from Santa Barbara News-Press reporter Nora Wallace.

The news caught most supervisors by surprise and came the same day they were scheduled to evaluate Wallar’s performance. That evaluation was put on permanent hold in response to her bombshell announcement. Had the evaluation taken place, it’s doubtful Wallar — who earns $250,000 a year — would have received the same glowing reviews she’s received in the past; after three years at the top spot, the honeymoon is decidedly over. Increasingly, the fourth floor — where Wallar presides — has been defined by rancor and complaints.

County department heads have lamented lack of access to Wallar while complaining of what they describe as a tendency to micro-manage. In recent months, three department heads have either quit or been fired. Wallar’s decision to consolidate Parks and Recreation into a new department with Housing and Community Development has found few fans but many critics. Certainly, the county’s chronic budget shortfalls have added significantly to the strain.

Some supervisors have expressed serious vexation that Wallar did not see fit to notify them she was seeking work elsewhere until after Voice of OC, a nonprofit news agency, broke the story Tuesday morning. There are reports — as yet unconfirmed — that she asked North County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino for a recommendation, as well as former supervisor Joni Gray. Wallar’s contract with Santa Barbara County expires in October, and she’s contractually obligated to give the supervisors 60-day notice. Uncertain now is whether the supervisors — some of whom are happy to see Wallar go — will insist on the full two months. Even more uncertain is how they’ll fill her spot if and when she’s offered the Orange County post.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Just a tip: HIRE FROM WITHIN next time.
The new CEO will be cheaper and more tied to the community, now so willing to seek greener grass.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
February 20, 2013 at 9:57 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Hire from within only if you have qualified candidates.

discoboy (anonymous profile)
February 20, 2013 at 10:24 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I bet she feels she can actually get something done in OC as they are very interested in reforming public pensions.

loneranger (anonymous profile)
February 20, 2013 at 11:43 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Ms. Wallar’s motto: “Why only do it once when you can do it five times?”

Unfortunately, she turned out to be petty and narrow-minded as a CEO. She has taken a laissez-faire approach to most issues and employees, unless someone or something ruffles her easily-ruffled feathers. When that happens, she is suddenly present and ready to attack. I am sure that those who have been on the receiving end of her snide comments and monumental overreactions are happy to see her go.

The sheer panic that ensues from even the smallest non-issue has been a source of both amusement and chagrin for many departments. Complaints about her micromanagement have been validated on a daily basis by the utter ridiculousness of that which she chooses to concern herself with. She is incapable of trusting staff to perform even the most menial of tasks. This has done nothing but severely diminish the efficiency of workers throughout the County, who have become so nervous that even the simplest tasks are now time-consuming. Considering how short-staffed and bogged down each department is, this has been detrimental to their productivity. She has turned confident and intelligent individuals into bumbling scaredy-cats, who second-guess themselves at every turn.

In short, the County environment has not been pleasant or positive during Ms. Wallar’s tenure. She has instilled such a sense of fear, panic and frustration among her employees that many could not stomach it anymore. Others simply dread going to work each morning. Who would have thought that one would long for the Mike Brown days? Surely that says it all right there.

JaneDoeSB (anonymous profile)
February 20, 2013 at 12:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It's ironic that all the complaints we are hearing about Waller are the same one's voiced by high level folks in San Diego County. She is very intelligent and articulate and knows how local government works, but her management style is arrogant and vindictive and her people skills with subordinants are nil. The funny thing is that when she is interacting with someone over which she has no power, she can be gracious, even sweet. Why three different Boards of Supervisors have choosen to hire this leadership style is beyond my comprehension.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
February 20, 2013 at 1:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The picture of her is great.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
February 20, 2013 at 6:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

User profile: JaneDoeSB
Joined: Feb. 20, 2013
Comments posted: 1 (view all)

eightdolphins (anonymous profile)
February 20, 2013 at 8:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Wallar asked Lavagnino and Gray for recommendations? That says it all right there. Can't wait to see the back of her.

chilldrinfthenight (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2013 at 1:27 a.m. (Suggest removal)


John_Adams (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2013 at 7:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I simply do not understand what certain people are getting upset about! There is absolutely nothing wrong with someone seeking a a higher paid position with greater responsibility. Her contract is up in October and she has every right to look for something new or better. She is under no obligation to let anyone know. How many of these "constant complainers" that post here would inform their current employer that they are looking and/or interviewing for a new job (the word " hypocrite" comes to mind).

The way this is being reported, by journalists who should know better, and the way some people are reacting to it, is almost if she has committed the "crime of the century" - Geez people get a life and grow up!! The last time I looked this was a free country and one could take your "labor" to any employer that wanted to buy it.

historypete (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2013 at 8:37 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I think this should be an elected position.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2013 at 9:18 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Definitely should be an elected position. If you have to pay public servants upwards of $200K, then all you get is self-servants.

native2sb (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2013 at 10:01 a.m. (Suggest removal)

This cannot be an elected position. If this were an elected position then the County CAO would not be answerable to the Board of Supervisors, which is currently the situation for the Sheriff and Treasurer-Tax Collector. How would that work?

discoboy (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2013 at 10:07 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Given votes by the Supes, better accountable to us than them. It's apparent nobody thinks this one did a bang up job.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2013 at 10:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

As I've said before, and has become apparent now, Mike Brown was a much better administrator than Ms. Waller. To be fair, this was a tough gig. Micro managers like Wolf, Farr and Carbajal, who voted to change from a strong CEO to weak CAO created this hostile work environment for staff. (I'm also not a big fan of the NoCo's either).

From the staff point, it's always easier to work for 1 boss as opposed to 5 and figure out how to juggle duties so that 3 votes dont fire you. Talk about walking on egg shells. This is exactly why most governmental agencies, both City and County are going away from this management style to either a strong City Manager or CEO. It also destroys any incentive to work as an executive management team and just focus on your feifdom. Plus if you don't have the type of relationship of hanging out with a Sup (like say, being a director and going fishing with Salud regularly), and just care about doing your job to the best of your ability, your skills matter less than kissing back side.

Ms. Waller allowed questionable hiring practices within the ranks (See former acting, demoted and finally released Asst. Parks Director, google for confirmation) Her hiring of a deputy CEO who vandalized park facilities (as stated in this paper and easily on line).

Wrong person, wrong type of governent structure, wrong elected officials.

BeachFan (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2013 at 11:37 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The CEO/CAO position at the County is a thankless job and the dire state of the County's budget makes the job even more untenable. It will take extraordinary leadership and ability to solve the numerous challenges and problems that exist at the County and it will require paying a decent salary. It will also require a shared vision across the BOS that goes beyond political turf.

There are also many directors and managers who have worked for the County too long and are threatened by new ideas and doing things differently. Cronyism and micromanaging are pretty typical management styles of many County directors and managers because of this.

It is more than time for 360 degree performance evaluations for County managers and directors, including the CAO.

canuck (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2013 at 12:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Canuck. Some of the really good directors and deputies were forced out because they weren't part of the Good Old Boys. The best example is what happened in County Parks when Mr. Hernandez and Mr. Axelson both were forced out even though we had some great things going on in that department at that time. The Movies in the Sunken Gardens, the restaurant at Arroyo Burro, the dog wash stations, the Angler Center at my favorite beach, Goleta.

Both were outsiders and very competent. Just didn't play nice with electeds who care more about politics than the community.

Nepotism was alive and well when Mr. Roney was hired after being let go from an agency in which he was forced to resign after submitting $64000 mileage reimbursement. Why? Perhaps because maybe his wife and current Asst. CEO worked together in the City of Ventura. Again, this is factual. I'll let folks out there make their own conclusions.

Unfortunately, as long as the Directors are hired, fired by the BOS, don't look for any improvements. The current director Mr. Parker is the exception. Good guy, but tough assignment.

BeachFan (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2013 at 1:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

When the big banks received $700 billion in TARP funds, people complained about the multi-million dollar bonuses doled out to the executives. The banks argued that they needed to pay well in order to retain "talent". The talent were the same incompetent and corrupt fools that caused the crisis.
I contend that the quality of government would be better if the pay was less. Instead of recruiting "movers and shakers", hire an honest reliable accountant for under $100K who will tell you the facts that you don't want to hear, like "you can't afford it" and "it's a waste of money."

native2sb (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2013 at 3:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I am always amazed when people like Mike Brown and Chandra Waller rise to the top. However, I am never surprised when the imperious style fails. Leaders are only as good as the team of managers that they assemble. Imperious executives are unable to assemble a team of competent mangers because competent managers do not put up that management style. Ms. Waller's ego may make her believe that she can "fix" Orange County, but she cannot do it alone. She will need a team of highly skilled public service mangers to "fix" Orange County, and she will not be able to attract them with the her management style. Furthermore, she should worry that the current Board of Supervisors of Orange County cannot even keep their mouth's shut coming out of closed session. The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors needs to find a low ego technocrat who knows how to build a competent team of mangers and who can inspire trust and hard work among the workers who actually get the work done in public service. I call this the hermit monk CEO, whose name nobody can quite remember but who gets things done efficiently and effectively. Good luck finding such a person.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2013 at 8:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Unfortunately Eck, the hiring and firing of department heads is in the perview of the BOS, not the CEO. This was changed the year after Doreen was elected. And we have see the results.

Unless the County goes back to the strong CEO format, it won't get better. This BOS will hire a-- kissers, not top tier professionals.

BeachFan (anonymous profile)
February 22, 2013 at 9:21 a.m. (Suggest removal)

No one can be successful doing what is needed financially at the county having to report to the current BOS.

loneranger (anonymous profile)
February 22, 2013 at 9:21 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Loneranger is right. The reason Chandra is not feeling the love from certain Supervisors is that she is trying to put in place an economic strategy that will guide decisionmaking and reduce the County's financial liabilities. However, the Board majority seems to just want to spend money on the issue of the day, and not be constrained by some pesky CAO that keeps reminding them of their fiscal responsibilties.

discoboy (anonymous profile)
February 22, 2013 at 10:12 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Well BeachFan, the way it really works is that the CEO brings his or her top candidate to the Board and the Board then decides if this is the person they want. If a CEO is not attuned to the dynamics of the Board and continually brings candidates that cannot get 3 votes, that is not a Board problem it is a CEO arrogance problem. The goal is to get five votes, which means bringing a skilled and experienced technocrat with fluid politics to the Board. Both Mike Brown and Chandra Waller, hated those types. They both wanted Yes-Men/Women. The Board members are not stupid, they can see this. I agree that the CEO should get to choose his or her staff, but when the CEO has shown again and again that he or she is incompetent in choosing quality mangers, the Board just has to step in for for the good of the County.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
February 22, 2013 at 8:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

One CAO down, a Sheriff and County Fire Chief to go. This county is full of incompetent, egotistical tards who apply from one job to the other. Current Sheriff, 4 departments, current Fire Chief, two departments and was recently trying to return to LA County. Leadership at its best when all they want is power, cash and a building named after themselves.....

Priceless (anonymous profile)
February 23, 2013 at 7:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Interesting comments, all. In my view, as one who worked for the county for over 28 years under six CAO-CEOs spanning four decades (1979-2007), Eckermann gets my nod as being most spot-on.

Dear BOS: DON'T hire another career-climbing outsider who tells you what you want to hear, and spends a lot of time trying to figure out what it is you want to hear next. DO hire a dedicated local with a commitment to providing excellent public service above all else, and who won't hesitate to tell you what you need to hear. And look for someone who'll cleanse some upper echelons of management, getting rid of those who are technically incompetent, mendacious, personally malicious and vindictive, and otherwise ineffective in accomplishing that main objective: providing excellent public service--doing the greatest public good, with the least private and public harm.

The echo chamber of sycophants must go the way of the dodo, not just at the county, but everywhere. That's the type of management that got us into invading Iraq, and that's killed off countless previously-successful business enterprises. Don't run government like a business, burning it to the ground and collecting the insurance (credit Lewis Black). Run it like a successful non-profit organization, the kind that prospers and lasts.

GregMohr (anonymous profile)
February 23, 2013 at 9:51 a.m. (Suggest removal)

This Board would never hire a person who would challenge them. Their egos are too big. A good CAO would tell them that their ongoing spending on pet projects has to stop, close or transfer facilities that are money pits and serves tiny segments of the community, stop letting the special interests dictate policy a la EDC. Until all those happen, this county government will continue it's eventual slide into fiscal bankruptcy.

BeachFan (anonymous profile)
February 23, 2013 at 12:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Beachfan, you obviously never worked for a Board of Directors. The job of CEO is not to challenge the Board of Directors. Rather, the job of the CEO is to bring policy recomendations to the Board and then implement the Board's direction. If the Board tells the CEO to listen to EDC and consider EDC's input, then the CEO does so. If the CEO cannot in good conscience fullfill the direction fo the Board, then the CEO resigns and Board finds a CEO who will fullfill their collective direction. The CEO is not a corrective of politics that you do not like. Rather, the CEO reflects the will of the Board. If the County slides into bankruptcy due to Board direction, the voters will change the Board members. Just because you personally do not like the current Board does not make them evil. The majority gets to choose the government they want and they get to live with the government they get. It's called democracy. Dictatorship is so much more efficienct, but then history, and ultimately the people, have not been very tolerant or kind to dictators. I recommend that we stick with messy democracy that we have.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
February 24, 2013 at 10:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Thank you for the explanation Eckerman.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 24, 2013 at 10:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"And look for someone who'll cleanse some upper echelons of management, getting rid of those who are technically incompetent, mendacious, personally malicious and vindictive, ..."

Don't they all work for the Goleta Water District now?

discoboy (anonymous profile)
February 25, 2013 at 10:02 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I think you miss my point Eck. I don't "hate" anybody. What we have in this County is incompetent understanding of finances and decisions based on politics, not sound policy. You are right, a CAO has to go with the decisions of the electeds and challenging them is usually not a good idea, especially in a public forum. BUT that being said, we are back to the basics of this discussion. How do you get a competent CAO with an elected panel that will not hire who and what's best for the County, but who serves their interest (primarily getting re-elected). I wasn't screaming for dictatorship. We are stuck with who we elected, and those we have elected are ruining the County.

BeachFan (anonymous profile)
February 25, 2013 at 11:17 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Fair enough BeachFan, but I never accused you of "hate." I understand your frustration with the current Board, and while I may disagree with you, I will acknowledge your concern for the fiscal condition the County and seemingly feckless way with which it is being handled. The trick to getting a competent CEO is hire someone who has experience in county government administration who has also worked in an environment of divided politics on the Board and has skills at bringing policy recommendations that can garner at least 4 votes and at the same time get the problems solved. An administrator such as my "hermit monk CEO" should be easy for the Board to hire because he or she will not bring controversy but will rather bring bi-partisan solutions to the Board that they all can embrace (well at least 4 of them).

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
February 25, 2013 at 9:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I hear Caruso is being considered.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 25, 2013 at 10:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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