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County Supervisor and Board Vice President Susan Ellenberg's Statement on Hiring of James Williams as Santa Cl

“Unclear communication threatens trust and, particularly in our current climate of divisive politics, this is too important to ignore. The selection process during these last few weeks for a new CEO began on October 17 with unanimous direction by the Board of Supervisors to enter negotiations with James Williams to be the next County Executive. Board direction on that date did not result in a final appointment or the formal approval of any contract as negotiations continued through October 31.”

“The language we used – I used – during the November 1 board meeting regrettably was inaccurate and I take responsibility for the angst this caused. I’ve been meeting with labor, nonprofit and other community leaders throughout the week to address their concerns and allow for deeper conversation and learning opportunities moving forward. It is my continued hope this smooth transition in leadership will ensure our community continues to receive the supports it needs to thrive.” 

-Santa Clara County Supervisor and Board Vice President Susan Ellenberg, Nov. 4, 2022


From Board of Supervisors' meeting November 1, 2022:

“This is a big moment for our County.   

As we prepare to say goodbye to Dr. Smith – an accomplished CEO who led our County for the last 13 years, the Board has had an opportunity to appoint his successor to take the reins and continue the work – and we have unanimously done so.  

But before I comment on our choice, I want to be clear - our responsibility as a board is first and foremost to the nearly 2 million residents who live in this county. Selecting a CEO who will be charged with the implementation of an $11 billion dollar budget and 23,000 employees is one of three core functions of the Board of Supervisors.  

And because this executive position is a board appointment and not an elected office, the CEO must be responsive and accountable to the Board of Supervisors. This, in fact, is perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the position.  

The CEO’s role is to operationalize the priorities and values the Board of Supervisors articulates. The Board of Supervisors, in turn, as an elected body is responsive and accountable to the community; we are responsible for setting policies that serve the residents of Santa Clara County and to do so in a manner that leads with equity.   

The Board sets direction, tone and policy for this organization and we do that in public.  

We make all personnel decisions regarding any of the five board appointed positions in closed session, in accordance with the Ralph M. Brown Act.  

The Board is the face of the County, not any of our appointees.  

I hear and appreciate the enthusiasm of so many county stakeholders to weigh in on this appointment. I hear many of you want to meet with the appointee prior to finalizing his contract. We should all be clear the priorities of the CEO are those of the Board. To the extent you want to ensure there is a clear mandate and understanding of the issues that must be addressed to move the County forward, that is the work of the Board. It is our role to ensure the CEO follows Board direction, which is influenced by our engagement with a wide variety of stakeholders, including all of you who wrote or called or texted today. It is also our responsibility to hold the County Executive accountable for any failure to follow Board direction and, if you should ever feel that is the case, it is the Board you should alert so we can address any issues.  

With all of that said, I am proud to be part of an organization that cultivates leadership and is well-positioned to promote from within.   

A child of immigrants from India and Iran and raised by a single mother, James Williams is an individual who reflects our values and community.  

He will be the first person of color to serve as the Executive for Santa Clara County.  

He has dedicated his career to public service, the last 12 years to our county. James is wholly committed to racial equity, as his portfolio of work attests.  

Under James’ leadership at the Office of the County Counsel, Santa Clara County has been at the forefront of social justice and impact litigation: we were the first County to stand up to the Trump administration’s immigration bans and public charge law. We have been nationwide leaders in defending DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). His office opposed racial discrimination and entanglement in federal immigration enforcement. His office completed the trial of the first case in the nation brought by government officials to hold opioid manufacturers responsible for their role in creating the nationwide opioid crisis. His office is actively engaged to ensure mitigation of lead pollution at and around Reid Hillview airport. He is advising on a first-in-the-nation ban on the sale of leaded fuel. His office was successful on a national level to petition the EPA to evaluate whether leaded fuel used by airplanes is a threat to public health and welfare, which is the first step towards preparation of a federal regulation to curb the use of leaded aviation fuel.   

This is just a small sampling of the issues in which James has had a leadership role during his tenure as County Counsel.  

There is perhaps no individual in our County who has a better grasp of the myriad issues that must be addressed to protect and serve our residents and his track record of fighting for racial equity, social justice and an end to all forms of discrimination is abundantly clear.   

James understands our County, our community and the inner workings of our government systems. He is not political and is a public servant in the truest sense of the word.  

The appointment of James Williams also ensures that urgent initiatives and projects that are already underway are not stalled, and community benefits aren’t delayed.  

I look forward to his tenure as a County Executive who will follow and implement the will of the Board.”  


The YouTube link to the November 1, 2022 Board of Supervisors meeting can be found here.


District 4 includes the cities of Campbell and Santa Clara, the unincorporated pocket of Burbank, and West San Jose. For more information about Supervisor Ellenberg’s office, visit      

Michael Norris, [email protected]    
Cell: 669-250-8572