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.