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San Diegans Should Have a Say in The Hiring of the county's top executive

A huge change in leadership is about to happen. For the second time in the last year, the Board of Supervisors is in motion to hire a new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). They appear to be moving once again to engage in a process without community input or oversight.

All the things that we’ve won as the ISDF Coalition and everything we are working towards depends on the County’s Chief Administrative Officer being someone who prioritizes community engagement and has a commitment to racial and social justice. San Diegans have been calling for a more equitable and inclusive County government. Efforts by the Invest in San Diego Families coalition and other advocates led to the Board of Supervisors adopting equity as a strategic initiative, a more inclusive budgeting process, and increased language access, but we’re far from done.

If we don’t get involved with this process, the Board of Supervisors may hire a new CAO who resists rather than leads the kind of transformation we need in San Diego County government. San Diegans should have a say in who creates the county’s budget and drafts policies!

It’s critical that community members know and meet who is being considered for the position, have opportunities to ask questions and have a real say in the future of our county.

The Board of Supervisors must:

  1. Publicly release the hiring process and timeline
  2. Host public forums for community members to share the values they want to see reflected in the next CAO
  3. Include community representatives in the review and selection process
  4. Provide an opportunity for community members to ask questions of and assess the final candidates

Why the county cao matters

This is the most important non-elected position at the County level:
Like a CEO of an organization, the CAO is the person responsible for the County budget, operations, and policies.
The Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) is the person responsible for making the Recommended Operational Plan (or proposed budget) based on the budgets submitted by the head of each department such as Health and Human Services, Child Welfare Services, Parks & Recreation, Public Health, Sheriff's Department, the Registrar of Voters, etc.
The Board of Supervisors only see and vote on what they’re presented in the proposed budget (Recommended Operational Plan).
The Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) is the main person responsible for implementation of policies and programs. The Board of Supervisors cannot direct County staff about how to implement the policies they pass. They can only provide direction to the CAO. The CAO can direct County staff to work directly with the Supervisors.

The Chief Administrative Officer may be even more influential than the Supervisors when taking into account power, and longevity. The previous CAO (Helen Robbins-Meyer) was there for over 25 years, and it’s possible that the new CAO will stay for decades as well.

The ISDF coalition fights for a County that is for the people and by the people. We want our next Chief Administrative Officer to be hired through a transparent and community oriented process. The Board of Supervisors already engaged in a process that happen behind closed doors without community input and as a result we’re a year behind in completing this search.

Roles & Responsibilities
County CAO
Board of Supervisors
Creates budget
Implements County policies
Directs County staff
Drafts County policies
Sets the vision for County
Approves budget
Passes County policies

What do we want to see in the new CAO?

We need a CAO with a demonstrated commitment to the values of social, racial and worker justice. Someone who will hire and delegate work to strong leaders, and who can inspire the rest of the County workforce to center and serve all our communities.

The next CAO must:

Have a transformative vision to create an equitable and inclusive San Diego County
Have a track record of fighting for racial justice
Prioritize workers and low income communities
Have a history of supporting immigrant and refugee communities
Be community-driven


Submit a non agenda public e-comment here in support of creating a public and transparent process to hire the next Chief Administrative Officer.

Check out some sample comments below:

  • My name is [INSERT NAME] from the ISDF coalition. The CAO is one of the most important public roles in San Diego. The person hired will create a budget of over $8 billion, manage over 2,000 County employees, & implement policies, programs, & services that impact all County residents. The Board of Supervisors cannot choose a CAO behind closed doors. San Diegans must have opportunities to meet the candidates, ask questions, and have a real say in deciding who will be the next CAO.