There’s nothing’s County Official of the Year appreciates more than walking into a room and seeing democracy at work.

“Part of the process in the development of policy is putting stakeholders at the table from a variety of disciplines, those on the outside and those on the inside, and having them work on a process without predicting the outcome,” said Valerie Brown, who chairs the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

“It might take some head banging, but the democratic process is by far the best way to achieve progress. And it is much more rewarding than walking into a room and saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’”

Brown is also president of the National Association of Counties. named Brown its County Official of the Year after reviewing nominations from around the state.

“She truly understands counties of all sizes, and she understands and values the people who have committed themselves to public service,” said Paul McIntosh, executive director of the California State Association of Counties. “As with any effective leader, Valerie is a great listener. She listens, she learns and then she acts.”

Brown gave a phone interview to shortly after adjournment of a Sonoma County board meeting, in a week that saw her traveling to Idaho, West Virginia and Louisiana for national association business.

In her travels, she asks questions and finds out how counties across the American landscape do business. In West Virginia, for example, the county role is mostly that of the sheriff’s department. Most health and human services functions are handled by the state.

“It’s incredibly rewarding for me to see this country,” Brown said. “It lays open how incredibly diverse we are. Some counties have three commissioners, some have five commissioners and some have 35.”

On the road, she offers examples from her home county. “We’re fortunate in Sonoma County to be a model in climate protection and energy conservation. Everywhere I travel, I’m offering a best practice looked at by other states and municipalities as a best practice.”

She cited the success of public-private partnership called Solar Sonoma County, which allows residents to borrow for solar and other energy conservation measures on their homes. The loans are repaid over many years, with payments added to property tax bills.

Solar Sonoma County has had $40 million in loan applications over the first year of the program. And it has spurred results in bolstering local construction jobs, Brown said proudly.

“Valerie’s experiences as a mother, educator and therapist, as a mayor, state Assembly member and county supervisor constantly serve her well,” said McIntosh. “While living in the San Francisco Bay Area and as a regular traveler to Washington, D.C., she has never lost her Midwestern roots. Valerie understands people.”

Brown was born in Kansas City and grew up around Missouri’s Trimble Wildlife Area, where her father was a state zoologist and wetlands expert. That background has moved forward to create a determined advocate for sustainability, protection of open space and water conservation in Sonoma County.

With the National Association of Counties, Brown has experienced some frustration with the way health care reform has bogged down in politically swampy areas.

A NACo task force’s efforts have put forward policy ideas based on county government’s experiences with health care. Those initiatives may get into an omnibus reform bill, or may become part of  smaller, piecemeal bills that might be the political endgame. Brown said it’s important that NACo leaders roll up their sleeves and be part of policy development, not just sit back in a cycle of going to the federal government and asking for fiscal relief.

“I believe that an outstanding asset is that I’m never afraid of going through an open door,” she said. “With a challenge, whether I take it on or not, I always believe I can.”  

Further reading: Valerie Brown Selected as New President of NACO

Join us in congratulating Valerie Brown on this award in local government.

Other Winners Announced So Far:

City Councilmember Of The Year Award
The Public Information Officer Of The Year
The Public Works Project Of The Year
The Ordinance Of The Year

Stay tuned for the final of the Local Government Awards from The Public Official Of The Year will be announced this month. For more information, please contact the editor, James Spencer, at

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