Statement: County of San Diego Chief Administrative Officer Process

News Date

The County of San Diego sits at a pivotal moment in its history. In recent years, the County has brought an urgent emphasis on tackling homelessness, overhauling our behavioral health system, protecting our environment, and centering social equity and racial justice across all County efforts. The success of this work relies on the County’s top executive, the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), who is directly responsible for implementing Board direction and policy, including management of the County’s $8 billion budget and oversight over 20,000 employees. 

Given the importance of this role, and the widespread community and stakeholder interest in having greater visibility and voice in this hire, I support the calls for adopting a transparent and open hiring process that is fully accessible, minimizes potential bias, and includes public participation and public input from all of our communities. 

Decisions of this magnitude should not happen behind closed doors, but out in the open where the public can maintain accountability over public-sector government. San Diegans deserve a transparent process for selecting the next person to hold one of the most powerful non-elected positions in the region. Further, the quality of this hiring process sets the tone for the relationship between the public and our County government and communicates to all the candidates the spirit and values that are essential to this body.

Diverse groups have all advocated for the Board to adopt a more inclusive and transparent hiring process.

The Brown Act and County Charter do not prohibit the Board from adopting a transparent and open hiring process. In fact, it is an established best practice used by many public entities to ]successfully hire highly-qualified candidates and encourage greater public faith in the decision.

For example, in February 2021, San Diego Unified School District Board of Education adopted a Superintendent Recruitment and Selection Process that included robust public participation and transparency, with multiple town halls, community meetings, and a total of 34 different opportunities for the public to actively engage in the selection process.

The County Board of Supervisors also modeled a transparent public hiring process in March 2022 to fill the vacancy of the San Diego County Sheriff. In that instance, the Board held two public hearings in an open setting with public participation, and ultimately appointed Anthony Ray as Interim Sheriff of the San Diego County Sheriff Department. 

The CAO search was originally conducted 2022-2023, but was temporarily suspended in April 2023 due to the abrupt resignation of District 4 Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. This departure left the voters and residents of District 4 unrepresented. The decision was made to wait to resume the search until the District 4 seat could be filled, which occurred in December 2023. 

Now that the process is moving forward, this is the right time to adopt an open hiring princess. That should include opportunities for the public to testify and submit questions to the Board for their consideration, as well as a public hearing to consider the finalist candidates from the current round of the search process alongside the individuals who were the leading candidates from the prior round of the search process in 2023.

While I cannot legally comment on closed session deliberations or decisions unless a Board majority votes to allow greater transparency regarding the CAO search, personalIy I do not believe our current CAO selection process is sufficiently transparent or allows enough community voice, and I would strongly welcome an approach that allows all finalists from this search round and the prior search round to be interviewed in public at a public board meeting.

I believe an open hiring process is the best way to ensure that our County government follows through on our commitment to being transparent, participatory, and accountable to the public.

Terra Lawson-Remer
Supervisor, District 3
Vice-Chair, Board of Supervisors
County of San Diego