Chandra Wallar
Paul Wellman

Expressing disappointment with the way her recruitment unfolded, Santa Barbara County CEO Chandra Wallar declined an offer to become Orange County’s next CEO. In a letter to the OC supervisors who had been negotiating with her, she said the process was made “more difficult and awkward” when news of the talks were leaked to the press, and also because open discussions about compensation were held by the board after deal points had already been negotiated.

“Had I anticipated that confidential information would be leaked to the press and that negotiated and agreed upon compensation deal points would be subsequently withdrawn, literally at the eleventh hour, I would not have submitted an application,” Wallar told the OC committee.

Poor coordination in Orange County led to confusing public and private processes that left Wallar’s status in both Orange County and Santa Barbara in limbo. Last Tuesday, the five-member OC Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed they wanted to hire Wallar, but a majority of supervisors were uncomfortable with the compensation Wallar wanted. “Chandra Wallar is an excellent leader and she’s really paid her dues and she’s really worked her way up,” said Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who was most vocal of his support.

But even he wasn’t willing to approach the $290,000 annual base salary Wallar was seeking. Her predecessor made $254,000. Wallar makes $232,000 plus benefits in Santa Barbara.

In her letter to Orange County supervisors, Wallar said her negotiated salary and benefit package was in line with compensations in similarly-sized California counties. “In fact, in some cases other counties are compensating their CEOs substantially more, and as you reported during the April 19th Board meeting, the median for your survey market is approximately $300,000,” she wrote.

Now, instead of heading to Orange County, she will remain in Santa Barbara. A performance evaluation had been scheduled for the day news leaked of her OC negotiations, and could be rescheduled now that she’s sticking around. In an email, using language that isn’t exactly inspirational about her feelings toward Santa Barbara, she told the supervisors here 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.”

It remains to be seen how much damage Wallar caused by looking for work elsewhere as she kept Santa Barbara supervisors in the dark. With her contract expiring in October, the supervisors will have to address concerns about how their CEO has managed county departments, several of which have been struggling or seen their heads depart.

Wallar also has the budget coming up. According to a report last Tuesday, Santa Barbara County is looking at a $10.8 million budget deficit for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

And while she continues to pursue new sources of revenue, negotiations between Wallar’s office and Rick Caruso about the future of his Miramar property are basically stalled. She, along with the Sheriff, will also have to continue to develop plans for a new North County jail.


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