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New SLO County top administrator settling into the position, ready to face important issues

Matt Pontes
New San Luis Obispo County Chief Administrative Officer Matt Pontes. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – San Luis Obispo County's new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Matt Pontes is just settling into the high-profile position serving as the county's top administrator.

On Thursday, just his fourth day on the job, he spoke with News Channel to explain what led him to back to San Luis Obispo, where he earned a degree at Cal Poly, and what will be the top issues he'll be facing in the position.

"Day four, it's drinking out of a firehose still, but there's a lot of great things going on here for SLO County," said Pontes. "It's just good to be home. It's good to be back in the community. I've got a lot of family on the Central Coast, and San Luis has always been home to me."

Since officially starting on Monday, Pontes said he's been very busy getting to know the people he will be working with directly in the San Luis Obispo County government office, as well as many of the residents in the community too.

"I'm meeting with folks," said Pontes. "I attended welcome home meeting last night out in the community and I got to hear some of the community's input on that. that was the reason for that meeting. I'm meeting with department heads and Board members trying to get acclimated back into all the services that we're delivering."

Pontes permanently fills the position that has been open since Wade Horton resigned one year ago. Horton served as CAO for five years before leaving the office on May 1, 2023.

Following Horton's departure, John Nilon served as interim CAO before leaving suddenly in November. Since then, Assistant CAO Rebecca Campbell has been acting CAO.

Pontes was officially hired by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors last week with a unanimous 5-0 vote. Now with Pontes on board, the Board is looking to bring stability into the vital position.

"The stability that a chief administrative officer brings to a county is very important," said District 3 Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg. "For us five at the Board of Supervisors, we need somebody to keep us organized and help us, direct our energies and our desires to affect positive change. That's what Matt's role is and not having that individual on a consistent basis for the last 12 months really has, I'd say impacted us both personally and as far as the organization."

Pontes brings extensive government experience to San Luis Obispo. He has worked in county governments in Santa Barbara County, Kern County, and most recently, Shasta County.

During his 8-year career with Santa Barbara County, Pontes served a number of roles, including Assistant Chief Administrative Officer.

Among his duties he performed over the years was to help lead recovery efforts following the Thomas Fire in December 2017, and the ensuing Montecito debris flow in January 2018.

He also has worked in the private sector, including his most recent position as Director of Wildfire and Forest Ecology at Sierra Pacific Industries.

His background includes working with federal, state, local, private and tribal agencies and organizations, which the county, as well as Pontes, believes will serve him well with his new position.

"Working with three separate other counties provided a lot of experience," said Pontes. "Working in public safety as a firefighter also gave me a unique perspective. Working private, understanding a little bit of a less bureaucratic system was amazing, aand learned a lot there that I think I could bring back in here to San Luis County."

Ortiz-Legg agreed that Pontes experience, especially with county government, was what stood out during the hiring process.

"He has great experience at different counties and I think that's one of the things we really liked," said Ortiz-Legg. "All of that comes together with really trying to help us tackle the challenges that we have here in San Luis Obispo County."

Pontes has been through many challenges before, particularly during his time as Shasta County CEO. His tenure came to an end in 2022 when he resigned following a public dispute with one of the Shasta County supervisors.

"Serving as the Shasta County executive officer was also a special time," said Pontes. "They have a lot of issues up there also that we were taking on head on, illegal cannabis out there. There were a lot of needs in the community, and trying to adjust the organization to the community's needs was really importatnt, ust like we do, everywhere we are, and I think some lessons learned in Shasta translate well to here in terms of having a split board having different priorities, learning how to how to make sure that each board member is getting what they need."

Pontes added that in order to be effective, a CAO must work with each individual city government, key organizations, as well as community members, and try to have everyone, especially the Board of Supervisors, all row in the same direction.

"One of the unique things about San Luis Obispo County is that we have very diverse communities across the county," said Pontes. "I think each of the elected officials does their best to try and represent those areas, and they put their vision and priorities on the table with me and, and it's a matter of adjusting the organization to try and meet the community's needs."

As he settles into the position, Pontes noted how important it will be to understand the key issues facing the county and how the Board will attempt to address them moving forward.

"First and foremost, it's understanding the board's priorities on homelessness, affordable housing, our infrastructure, making sure we're leveraging all of our relationships with all of the providers," said Pontes. "There's a lot of nonprofits that are doing amazing work here in San Luis County. A lot of other public agencies doing some amazing things, and I'm hoping I can strengthen some of our relationships even more. I think that one of the things that I bring to the table is some are already strong relationships,with some nonprofits, with public serving agencies and really strengthening some of those relationships, looking for opportunities where we could partner and do more for the community out there."

As his first week comes to close, Pontes reiterated how excited he is to return to San Luis Obispo County and how eager he is to tackle the pressing issues the community faces and help lead it into a promising future.

"I feel good about being here both personally and professionally," said Pontes. "It's an amazing place to live and serve." 

Article Topic Follows: Local Politics
san luis obispo county

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Dave Alley

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