Wade Horton was unanimously voted by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors to be the newest San Luis Obispo County Administrative Officer in November 2017. He has lived and worked in San Luis Obispo County most of the time since he moved to the area to attend Cal Poly in the mid 1990s. He graduated from Cal Poly in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering.
It was while attending Cal Poly that Horton met his wife, Marika. They have been married 17 years and have four children: two boys, 13 and 11, and two girls, 8 and 4.
“We’re a team, I couldn’t do my job without [my wife’s] support,” Horton said.
And he has a lot on his plate in addition to four children: not only is he the head of County Operations, but he’s also been serving in the Navy reserves in the Civil Engineer Corps for the last 15 years. He joined soon after 9/11 and has continued through the years. When he completes his current tour, he will leave the reserves.
“With this job, it wouldn’t be appropriate to mobilize with the responsibilities I have in this post,” Horton said. “It’s a bittersweet decision because I’ve enjoyed serving.”
In his 15 years in the reserves he has spent a year mobilized in Iraq from 2007 to 2008 and has risen to the rank of Lt. Commander. Most of his career with the Civil Engineering Corps has been in the Naval Construction Battalion and now he’s in the Korean Contingency Unit.
Since graduating Cal Poly, Horton has been working in both the private and public sector. He worked for different companies as an engineer until he moved to the public sector in 2009 when he took a job with the City of San Luis Obispo as the Construction Engineering Manager.
“When I got back from Iraq, I didn’t want to stay in an office,” Horton said, so he went back to construction. “That experience [in Iraq] had an impact on me. I wanted to do more for the community.”
The City of SLO was a client of Horton’s at the company he worked for and found out there was an opening at the city for a Construction Manager, so he applied and got the job. After a couple of years, he became Deputy Director of Utilities and Water Division Manager for the city. After three years there, he got hired as Director of Public Works for the County of San Luis Obispo. Three years later, he was named County Administrative Officer.
“I serve at the pleasure of the Community and Board,” Horton said. “This is a dream job. It’s a lot of work, but I don’t see it as a job. … I really, really appreciate the opportunity to serve the community in this position and the opportunity to work with a great team, not only in an administration, but also with the department heads and the Board [of supervisors].”
Though the Board of Supervisors often is split on decisions, they were unified in their decision to select Horton for the role.
“It’s very humbling that the Board and Community put their trust in me to lead this organization,” Horton said. “It’s a very dynamic board — there are passionate positions taken that don’t always align. [So] that the board has confidence and trust in me — I don’t just appreciate it, I take the trust very seriously. It’s absolutely important to provide unbiased, professional support to each board member and once a decision is made [to] go out and work with the team to execute that decision in the best way possible.”
Some of the issues facing the country include the ongoing water issue, improving the jail/medical facilities, affordable housing, the closing of Diablo Canyon by 2025, homelessness, improving and maintain the county’s aging infrastructure: facilities, roads and utility systems, opening the Crisis Stabilization Unit for mental health crisis. Though there was some relief from the drought, it’s not over. The county has also been charged with developing a plan for all five water basins in the county.
“My role is to provide the board with well-vetted policy recommendations, develop and collaborate with partner agencies as well as the partners at the state and regional levels to help the county programs move forward,” Horton said. “Part of my job is to be a steward of the public dollars and to leverage them as best as possible.”
Heather Young is a freelance writer specializing in travel, wine, food and feel-good stories about people doing good in their communities and world. Find her on Instagram @travelswithheatheryoung