Officials in Santa Barbara Surprised by CEO’s Talks With OC

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The chairman of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors said Wednesday he was surprised by the news that his county’s CEO might be leaving to take the top job in Orange County.

But interviews and news reports indicate that there would likely be few official regrets in Santa Barbara county government if its CEO, Chandra Wallar, indeed heads south.

Salud Carbajal, chairman of the board in Santa Barbara, said in a telephone interview he was “completely unaware” Wallar was interviewing in Orange County until she sent supervisors an email Tuesday morning about a Voice of OC article.

“Supervisors,” Wallar wrote at 8:40 a.m., “I wanted to give you a heads up on an article in today’s [Voice of OC]. Although the discussion is taking place there has not been an open session to approve any agreement.”

The Orange County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss pay for the new chief executive at their Feb. 26 meeting. Wallar currently earns $250,000 a year, according to an article Wednesday in the Santa Barbara Independent.

Waller didn’t respond to an interview request, but the Independent reported that her last year has been rocky. It said the Voice of OC article came the same day that the Santa Barbara board was supposed to evaluate Wallar’s performance, but the evaluation was put on hold.

From the Independent’s article:

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.

Asked whether Wallar might be leaving because her job is in jeopardy, Carbajal said he’s not allowed to discuss personnel issues. “I can’t speak about her job performance,” he said.

While her reputation might have been suffering in Santa Barbara, she was highly regarded in San Diego County, where she worked for 11 years and was a deputy chief administrative officer in the land use division.

Several San Diego officials described her as “sharp” and “tough.”

“I never heard any bad things about her,” said one official who requested anonymity. “She could be tough, and you didn’t want to screw up under her, but she didn’t leave here because she was unhappy. She wanted to move up.”

Orange County’s CEO position has been vacant since July when Thomas Mauk resigned in the aftermath of sex crimes charges being filed against top executive Carlos Bustamante. A series of other high-level departures ensued, with some, like Public Works Director Jess Carbajal, being fired. Deputy CEO Alisa Drakodaidis is still on paid administrative leave after writing politically explosive allegations against supervisors.

David Washburn contributed to this report.

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC.

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