Beginning her tenure as Mendocino County Chief Executive Officer in September 2009, Carmel Angelo has been at the helm of Mendocino County’s government through a period marked by economic downturns, austerity measures, fires, power outages, and the worldwide pandemic.
Angelo confirmed that March 19, 2022 will be her final day and with her early retirement fast approaching, we spoke with her about her time as the county’s first female CEO.
Angelo told us her plan has always been to retire in October 2022, but a serious illness within her family called her to make the decision to retire early. She said that last January 2021, she lived through the stress of a family member suffering a serious medical condition. Monday of this week, she got the news that another family member was ill. “On Tuesday during the Board of Supervisors meeting, I was trying to work with the supervisors and getting texts from my family. That night, I decided I couldn’t do this anymore.”
Angelo has served as Mendocino County’s CEO for 12 years, nearly double the average tenure of a county CEO. When asked why she held the position for that long, she explained Mendocino County was where she chose to live and did not have the desire to work in a larger county. Though many larger counties offer more salary and status, Angelo said, “that is not what I wanted.”
Angelo came to Mendocino County in June 2007 to serve as the Director of Health and Human Services. With her background as a nurse, Angelo looked forward to her role in helping to meet the health needs of Mendocino County.
In September 2009, then CEO Tom Mitchell asked Angelo to step into the role of Assistant CEO which she did. After serving under Mitchell, he abruptly retired in March 2010 and Angelo took the helm.
This transition caused criticism, Angelo told us, due to the perception she had taken the role at Health and Human Services as a stepping stone to a higher position. In fact, Angelo said she had “never wanted to go into general administration” and sought the role in Health and Human Services due to her career in nursing.
When Angelo stepped into office, the United States was in the throes of an economic downtown and she had to “manage the county, work with the board, balance the budget, and take care of the county’s 1,400 employees.”
Coming from San Diego County which Angelo characterized as “conservative and fiscally responsible,” Mendocino County was what she called a “jobs program” with the county being the largest employer that she said is workable when “you have money”, but not during budgetary shortfalls.
Using skills she gained in San Diego, Angelo said she worked to reduce the county’s budget and balance expenses which were not Mendocino County’s norm. Her fiscal austerity policies resulted in a 10% cut to Mendocino County staff salaries and she personally took a 20% cut to hers.
“Many people in Mendocino County are here to be out of the rat race. There was this belief that we are an island, but we are not. It was difficult for people to understand even though we were facing economic challenges.”
These fiscal policies set in place by Angelo and the Board of Supervisors at that time “saved the county from going over a cliff” but resulted in what she described as a “fractured organization.”
This low-morale was the genesis of one of Angelo’s proudest accomplishments. In 2012, to empower staff Angelo and the county instituted what is known as the Leadership Initiative which brought leaders from across Mendocino County government’s workforce to advocate for change. Angelo said employees began to know that “they had a voice and they were part of a team. We began to heal the organization.”
Since these fiscally lean times, Angelo said her primary objective was working to build a robust county administration that could provide consistency and reliability as county supervisors served their terms. “You cannot run an organization in four-year increments,” Angelo said. Her work building a fiscally-responsible, stable county government grew county reserves from 1.9 million dollars in 2007 to 20 million today.
Looking forward, Angelo hopes this current round of supervisors will consider the importance of a strong county administration, especially in the time of unprecedented natural disasters Mendocino County has had to navigate. The policies and procedures practiced by stable county administrations can enhance the ability to respond to challenging times, Angelo explained.
According to Angelo, a key factor in determining Mendocino County’s future success is the implementation of a strategic plan. The establishment of a strategic plan is an important step in aiming the county’s trajectory. In her twelve years in office, there have “never been three votes to do a strategic plan. She applauded the success of 3rd District Supervisor John Haschak and 1st District Supervisor Glen McGourty bringing the strategic plan draft forward this year and encouraged the Board of Supervisors to use the strategic plan model to the county’s benefit.
The county’s financial health was Angelo’s biggest concern in the next few years. With four out of five the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors is in their first term, Angelo fears the current infusion of cash from the state and local government could make them spend in excess. “These board members think we always have money. Stop spending money just top. I guarantee in three years we will be in trouble.
As she considers her last two months on the job, Angelo described being grateful for many experiences and relationships including all of the board members she has worked with and her staff describing them as “being able to work with this board and lead the county without me.”
She was thankful for Mendocino County voters and former Sheriff Tom Allman for their support and advocacy for Measure B, an important step towards addressing those suffering from mental health issues in the county. She recalled her relationship with former 3rd District Supervisor John Pinches calling him “the best supervisor of the last decade.” She also shouted out former 1st District Supervisor Carre Brown and 2nd District Supervisor John McCowen for their constant teamwork to do what is best for the community.
With her last day in the near future, Angelo said she is proud of the work she has done in Mendocino County, but now, “it’s time to put my family first.”