It has been more than a week since Mona Miyasato officially began her tenure as CEO with the County of Santa Barbara, but she was busily doing her homework prior to her Dec. 9 start date in the new job.
Sitting in her office on Wednesday, Miyasato said gathering input from each of those people has been important to her, as she works to learn what works and what doesn't while settling into her new job.
She also sent an email to all employees, asking them about what the organization should change and what should stay the same, and took the opportunity to ask them a fun question as well — what event or restaurant she should experience as a newcomer to the county.
"I'm just really excited to be here," she said. "[During interviews] one board member asked me, 'How long can you be here?' and I said, 'Forever. I don't know why you'd want to leave.'"
Miyasato was offered a salary of $230,000 and takes the helm from former CEO Chandra Wallar, who had been with the county since November 2010. The Board of Supervisors decided not to renew her contract earlier this year.
Before being hired to lead the Santa Barbara County staff, Miyasato was working as chief assistant county administrator in Marin County, where she had been since 2008. Prior to that, she worked in Santa Monica’s city government for 10 years, including as deputy city manager.
She grew up in Southern California and still has family in the Los Angeles Area.
Miyasato talked about some of the commonalities between Marin and Santa Barbara counties, noting that "Marin is similar in that there's a lot of agriculture and open space, but there are core urban areas where there's a lot of concern about growth."
Miyasato said Santa Barbara County has a more diverse range of interests, and "that's what attracted me to coming here."
"I love the passion of the people here," she said. "I know people here may feel that it's contentious, but it's a recognition that people feel strongly about where they live. I appreciate that. That's half the battle to ensuring you have a healthy community."
She said she was also drawn to the county because it's been known for having good financial principles.
After talking to the board, Miyasato said, she felt like she could help the county make some of the changes it's working toward.
The organization also has endured many cuts already and deciding how to adjust to that moving forward is something no one quite has figured out yet, she said.
"As we're coming out of a recession, we still have to maintain fiscal discipline," she said, adding that people know what their lives looked like before the recession, but "no one quite has an idea of what it looks in the future."
Improving customer service is also a high priority for her.
It's been difficult for public employees in the last few years, she said, adding that she sees work in the public sector as a noble effort.
"We're in a position of privilege, holding the public's trust," she said.
When she's not working, Miyasato enjoys walks with her dog, Simon, a half-beagle and half-Jack Russell terrier, and her husband, David Rzepinski, who is wrapping up his job at the Marin County Transit District.
"I like to get out and about," she said.