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Supervisors hear from public on CAO search during special meeting

The San Diego County Administration Building taken on Dec. 12, 2022. Inset: An undated photo of Helen Robbins-Meyer
Alexander Nguyen / KPBS
County of San Diego
The San Diego County Administration Building taken on Dec. 12, 2022. Inset: An undated photo of Helen Robbins-Meyer

County residents and advocates asked the Board of Supervisors to ensure an open process in the search for a new chief administrative officer.

After 12 years in the position, Helen Robbins-Meyer is expected to depart in late March. She announced her retirement in October 2022, however, a request to keep her on the job followed a political earthquake involving former District 4 Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.

Supervisors voted 4-0 in April in favor of keeping Robbins-Meyer as interim chief administrative officer for a limited time.


Fletcher resigned in May after admitting to an affair with a woman who then sued him, alleging he sexually assaulted and harassed her. He has denied the allegations.

On Dec. 5, Monica Montgomery Steppe was sworn in as Fletcher's replacement, after she won a special election in November.

In September, supervisors restarted the search for a new CAO.

Ten people who spoke during a special meeting Tuesday stressed the importance of transparency, especially considering the CAO's power and influence.

A member of Youth Will said that hiring Robbins-Meyer's successor behind closed doors "will deny the most marginalized and vulnerable community members representation."


Anjleena Kour Sahni, a researcher with the Center on Policy, told supervisors community input was crucial in picking a new CAO, "who is the most powerful non-elected public position in this entire region.

The CAO also oversees an $8 billion budget, directs 20,000 employees and is responsible for implementing policies and services that impact the county's 3.3 million residents, Kour Sahni said.

She added that the administrator will influence how the county government will manage the housing crisis and an influx of migrants at the U.S.- Mexico border, ensure county worker access to resources and set the tone on how equity and racial justice will be prioritized.

Barbara Pinto, a member of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, said the county needs a new CAO who "treats the communities as a partner," and prioritizes the lives of senior citizens and those with disabilities.

Judith Vaughs, public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, said allowing public input "is an opportunity to start a new chapter, and build trust with our residents."

Samantha Schwimmer, of the San Diego LGBT Community Center, asked the board to publicize its hiring timeline, host public forums, include community representatives in the selection process and let residents ask questions.

"It's also vital the next CAO have a proven track record of centering social justice in their leadership," Schwimmer said.

Crystal Irving, president of Service Employees International Union Local 221, also pressed for a meet-and-greet event with CAO candidates.

Supervisors made no public comments before going into closed session to discuss the search process.