California County Comparison

I would like to compare (find similarities) and contrast (find differences) seven counties in the state of California, USA. We do NOT need to know every one of the topics below about every County. That would be extremely difficult. But we need trends and details we can compare and contrast in a larger report.


Every state in the U.S. is broken into geographic counties. Most counties, in turn, contain one or more cities. For example, Los Angeles is a city in the County of Los Angeles and San Francisco is a city in the County of San Francisco. However, the County of Los Angeles also has other cities. And some counties do not have cities in them bearing the same name as the county.

While terminology varies, Counties are governed in the following way:

• The state government (in this case, California) dictates many things the county must do (e.g. take care of orphans, offer drug abuse treatment, manage roadways outside of cities, run airports, etc.). It also “allows” counties to do many other things (e.g. run museums, build parks, etc.)

• The County Board of Supervisors is usually ~5 people elected by the people in the County to manage county services. Supervisors often have “deputies” who help them to study issues and to interact with citizens, Department Heads (see below) and the County Executive (see below)

• The County Executive (various names are used, see below in scope) is hired by the Board of Supervisors to run the County departments. This person’s role can range from being in charge to simply administering defined processes depending on the rules in the County, the desires of the Board of Supervisors, and the personality of the individual. This person also has “deputies” with responsibilities ranging from helping with general staff work to officially being the boss of Department Heads (see below)

• Department Heads run the various departments needed to run the County. Examples include: Economic Development, Health and Human Services, Sheriff, County Counsel/Attorney, Assessor (values property for taxes), Fire Chief, Purchasing, Human Resources, etc. A typical county may have 25-40 of these.


The seven California counties in which we are interested are:

• San Bernardino

• San Diego

• Orange

• Los Angeles

• Fresno

• Sacramento

• Santa Clara

The four topics around which we need similarities and differences are:

• Vision and Strategy

• Organizational Structure

• Operations and Operational Management

• Culture

MORE DETAIL on what we mean by these topics (again, we won’t find all of these for each County. Just a strong, representative overview):

Vision and strategy creation and communication

o Satisfaction and quality of vision and strategy creation process

o Clarity of the strategy and resulting priorities among County staff

Organizational structure

o What is the top executive title (CEO, CAO, County Executive, COO, etc.)? Does this have any implications for how this person actually runs the County on a day to day basis? (e.g. Is the top Executive more a manager/boss or facilitator/administrator?)

o Department relationship to top executive (E.g. Does the Executive hire and fire Department Heads or only the Board of Supervisors?)

o How are departments grouped? Who runs the group? (e.g. Is the group leader like department head, but just running multiple departments or is the person a Deputy CEO/CAO?)

o Is there clarity on role definition? Do people know what their jobs are and what other people’s jobs are?

Operations and Operational Management

o Are people satisfied with County performance?

o Any formal or informal alignment of operations and daily priorities to top-level strategy?

o Are there any oversight or accountability or performance management systems?

o Any performance measurement (sometimes discussed as “Performance-based Management”) for employees, departments, County-wide measures? (e.g. budget, development pace, growth, etc.)

o What is the view of customer service to citizens of the County


o What words or phrases do people use to describe the nature of the culture? (e.g. innovative, bureaucratic, focused on continuous improvement, etc.)

o What is the effect of the culture on performance?

o What is the level of collaboration? Are departments seen as embracing collaboration or do they work in silos?

o Is anything done to cultivate a particular productive culture?


• The websites of the Counties themselves

• Stories in LOCAL newspapers and websites (County news is LOCAL news)

• Web-available studies comparing California Counties


This material will go into a much larger report, so we are open-minded about format. I expect information to be designed for reuse. For example, it would likely be organized in tables, graphs, or in documents with the same structure across Counties in order to allow us to decide which similarities and which differences to extract for the report. Of course, we would need careful attribution of sources.

Skills: Market Research, Report Writing, Research

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