Whether Santa Barbara County CEO Chandra Wallar will accept a similar position with Orange County remained unclear Tuesday after a lengthy discussion by the Orange County Board of Supervisors about what to pay her.
After meeting in closed session, the five-member board tentatively decided it wants Wallar to come on board, but could not agree on her level of compensation.
She had asked for a base salary of $290,000, but would be required to pay 100 percent of her required employee pension contribution, which the former CEO did not have to do.
Under the proposed terms, Wallar would be automatically terminated if she chooses a pension, or similar defined-benefit plan, because “this board has been very adamant about double dippers,” Supervisor Janet Nguyen said.
Another candidate applied for the job but was already drawing retirement benefits from a public pension, and the board turned him down because of that.
Wallar’s total compensation package is still well below that of prior CEO Tom Mauk, but with a higher annual salary.
Nguyen said Wallar had said that she wanted to come to Orange County for the opportunity to manage a larger budget in a bigger county.
“This is more like ending her career at a very high level,” Nguyen said.
“Chandra Wallar is an excellent leader, and she’s really paid her dues,” said Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who noted that Wallar had received words of praise from supervisors, the sheriff and the DA’s office when he called them for advice. “I feel very good about her opportunity to lead this county.”
But Spitzer said he had difficulty agreeing to $290,000.
“I don’t want to lose Chandra, but I don’t want to move to $290k,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s justifiable to bring her in at a higher salary.”
The board took a straw vote and approved Wallar for the job based on her expertise, but was sending members to call her to see if she would negotiate a lower salary.
Wallar confirmed last month to members of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors that she was in talks to take the post.
Wallar sent an email less than 20 minutes before the start of the Feb. 19 board meeting, to all five supervisors, with the subject “Orange County” and a link to a story by Voice of OC, a nonprofit investigative news site based in Orange County.
In the email, Wallar said she wanted to give the supervisors, who apparently had been in the dark about her possible departure, a “heads-up” on the article’s appearance.
“Although the discussion is taking place, there has not been an open session to approve any agreement,” she said in the email.
Wallar began her tenure with Santa Barbara County in 2010, in the middle of one of the bleakest budget sessions in county history.
Since then, she’s grappled with everything from the county’s dysfunctional Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, unfunded pension liabilities, and labor negotiations to a hiring freeze in an attempt to curb costs.
Wallar succeeded CEO Mike Brown, who had been at the county’s helm since 1996, and retired in 2010.
Wallar moved from San Diego County, where she had served since 1999 as deputy chief administrative officer and group general manager for the county’s Land Use and Environment Group. She managed 1,500 people and a budget of $400 million.