Sonoma County names new interim economic development director

Ethan Brown, business development director for the county’s Economic Development Board, was named interim executive director in the wake of Sheba Person-Whitley’s departure.|

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has tapped Ethan Brown, the business development director for the county’s Economic Development Board, to lead the department as interim executive director.

Brown will step into the role on Dec. 28, taking over for outgoing executive director Sheba Person-Whitley, who is leaving the job for a new position with the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

The board unanimously voted to appoint Brown for the interim role during its meeting Tuesday.

Brown has worked for the department since 2012 and prior to that was a small business owner within the county, according to a Sonoma County press release announcing Brown’s appointment.

During his time with the department, Brown’s responsibilities have included overseeing the funding of $2.5 million in COVID-19 relief grants for local businesses, creating a countywide alliance of economic development professionals in response to the pandemic and facilitating $1.5 million in state tax incentives for local businesses, the release said.

“I look forward to working with staff, the Board of Supervisors and community on departmental goals and to create a strategy for the EDB that sets the stage for success once a permanent executive director is chosen,” Brown said in a news release.

Brown’s salary will be $149,244, according to the county.

“Ethan is a collaborative team member who is well trusted by colleagues and clients and has demonstrated the leadership skills required to be successful in this all-important interim role,” board Chair Lynda Hopkins said in the release.

Person-Whitley also endorsed Brown and praised him in a recommendation letter to the board, Hopkins noted during the board’s meeting.

Person-Whitley, who is Black, announced her impending departure in October, when she shared that a pattern of racial bias and microaggressions had made working at the county “untenable.”

Her departure put a spotlight on other accounts of discrimination and harassment shared by department heads of color.

The loss of Person-Whitley adds to the growing list of vacancies among top county government positions. The board must also hire a new health services director, a position the county nearly filled in October, when the board’s preferred candidate backed out over concerns similar to Person-Whitley’s.

The county is also search for a replacement for retiring General Services Director Caroline Judy, the county’s chief real estate official.

You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or On Twitter @MurphReports.

Emma Murphy

County government, politics reporter

The decisions of Sonoma County’s elected leaders and those running county government departments impact people’s lives in real, direct ways. Your local leaders are responsible for managing the county’s finances, advocating for support at the state and federal levels, adopting policies on public health, housing and business — to name a few — and leading emergency response and recovery.
As The Press Democrat’s county government and politics reporter, my job is to spotlight their work and track the outcomes.

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