County’s Longtime CAO Walt Ekard Announces He’s Leaving the County

County Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer (left) was appointed to succeed Chief Administrative Officer Walt Ekard, following Ekard's announcement he will step down December 1.
August 8, 2012 | 5:42pm

Walt Ekard, longtime Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) for the County of San Diego, announced Wednesday that he is leaving County service December 1. 

During a late afternoon closed session, the Board of Supervisors appointed Assistant CAO Helen Robbins-Meyer to succeed Ekard.

Ekard made the announcement about his departure during Wednesday's Board of Supervisors meeting. With his wife, Pam, and his three daughters in attendance, Ekard told the Board he has been privileged to lead the finest local government in America. He said he’s not retiring but he looks forward to other opportunities on the horizon.    

“There is no greater honor than serving the public and it’s been my great privilege to do so these past 13 years,” said Ekard. “Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

Upon hearing those words, the audience in the packed chambers rose to a standing ovation. 

A clearly emotional Chairman Ron Roberts praised Ekard for helping the County to become what he called “one of the most well-managed local governments in the country.”

“It’s with a great deal of heartfelt pride that I just want to wish you the very best, the best to your family for whatever you decide to do,” he said. “I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities to do things. We want you to always feel proud of what you did here and we’ll always be thankful for what you’ve done.”

The other Board members also offered praise on Ekard’s character and leadership.

“What I appreciate about you--and your reputation is it’s impeccable," said County Supervisor Bill Horn. “You are a man of integrity and a man of your word and that is hard to find.”  

Supervisor Pam Slater-Price said there really is no finer CAO anywhere “because you have been at the helm of this ship keeping it steady through smooth sailing and rough,” said Slater-Price. “Always keeping everyone reminded of what our mission is, and keeping everyone rowing in the same direction and that’s really been the key to the success that we’ve had.”

“You’ve left us in good stead," said Supervisor Dianne Jacob. “And I think the things that stand out to me are your character, your integrity, your honesty is second to none.”

Ekard was credited with keeping county staff together through some very difficult times. “Our county motto is the noblest motive is the public good," said Supervisor Greg Cox. “Well the noblest public servant is Walt Ekard.”

Ekard is the longest serving chief administrative officer for the County in recent times. The Board appointed Ekard to the position in May 1999. As the CAO for the fifth most populous county in the nation, he manages more than 15,000 employees and an annual budget of $5 billion. He implements policies set by the Board and oversees the operation of more than 40 departments that provide services that touch all County residents — from running probation services and regional disaster preparedness to providing health and social services; collecting property taxes; running local elections, parks and libraries; to managing public health services; protecting our beaches; maintaining roads and protecting animals.

Ekard has been at the forefront of dramatic changes at the County. He instituted what is called the General Management System, a program that requires multi-year financial planning, stresses accountability and teamwork. As a result, the County has managed to weather the recent economic downturn better than many regional governments and has maintained its excellent Triple A credit ratings with agencies such as Standard and Poor’s.

With Ekard at the helm, the County has won dozens of awards over the years. Among the most recent is the 2012 Grand Golden Watchdog Award from the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. The County was lauded for its cost-saving measures that enabled it to pay cash for the new construction of a variety of County buildings, a move which will ultimately save taxpayers about $1.46 billion over the next 30 years. In addition, the County Library was named the 2012 Library of the Year by the educational publishing company Gale and Library Journal magazine.    

Ekard told the Board he looks forward to what can be accomplished in the next four months while he’s still here and he thanked the Board for being part of a terrific team. He also had high praise for Robbins-Meyer saying she is a truly superb executive who will take this County to a whole new level.   

For her part, Robbins-Meyer said the departure of Ekard is bittersweet. “It’s truly an honor to have the opportunity to work with this Board of Supervisors to lead such an exceptional organization,” said Robbins-Meyer. “But Walt Ekard ranks at the top of the best CAO’s in the nation. His character, his brilliance, his passion for excellence, his devotion to public service and his friendship are irreplaceable.”