Sonoma County set to appoint emergency management director

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Christopher Godley, who was named Sonoma County’s interim emergency manager after the former official was reassigned amid criticism over failure to adequately alert the public during the 2017 wildfires, has been selected as the top candidate for the permanent job.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will consider the county administrator’s recommendation to appoint Godley as the emergency management director Dec. 11, a spokeswoman said.

Godley, a Santa Rosa resident, was among 38 people who applied for the post. The county’s nationwide search was launched after the previous emergency manager, Christopher Helgren, was reassigned in mid-February to a different county government job and later retired.

“Mr. Godley is a professional with 25 years of experience in emergency management, and we have been able to see his expertise in action since day one as an interim manager,” Sonoma County Administrator Sheryl Bratton said in a statement. “He has the vision and leadership skills needed to reshape and rebuild trust in our emergency services division.”

Godley, 54, previously worked as the director of emergency management for the engineering firm Tetra Tech and also helped advise Santa Rosa officials after the October 2017 fires. He served as San Jose’s emergency management director from 2010 to 2013, with prior roles as Marin County’s emergency services manager and the deputy emergency services coordinator in Sonoma County.

The county has paid $38,000 a month for his contract, said Jim Colangelo, Godley’s boss and the interim director of fire and emergency services. If approved by supervisors, Godley would start Dec. 24. The salary for his position will range from $137,937 to $167,658, spokeswoman Briana Khan said.

The director reports to the county administrator and is tasked with leading the county’s emergency management program, including training, promoting public awareness and coordinating with other agencies.

County officials have acknowledged widespread failures during the 2017 wildfires that burned more than 5,300 homes and killed 24 people in Sonoma County. A June report indicated that government employees were undertrained and overwhelmed during the fires.

Colangelo said Godley stepped into a challenging role, quickly instating plans for local officials, emergency dispatchers and law enforcement to boost training about issuing emergency alerts. He said Godley played a role in launching tests of alert systems in September, including a test of the Federal Wireless Emergency Alert system that was believed to be the first of its kind on the West Coast. The department has also worked to issue a report on the success and shortcomings of those tests, which will be discussed by the board Tuesday.

“My confidence (in Godley) is off the charts,” Colangelo said. “The county was very fortunate to land someone like that.”

Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore similarly underscored his confidence in Godley and said he “absolutely” thinks the board will approve his appointment. He said supervisors have “high expectations” for the position and for ensuring continued community preparedness.

“He came onto a ship that was taking on water in a pretty big storm,” said Gore, the board’s chairman. “That department had not just a lot of criticism from the community, but a huge amount of accountability pushed on it by the Board of Supervisors. … He has brought a huge amount of steady confidence in the midst of chaos.”

Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who was part of a panel that interviewed the candidates, said Godley “rose to the top.”

The emergency services division will in coming months be reorganized into an independent department with its own leader, a role Godley would fill.

It will have a $2.1 million budget and will be staffed with about 10 people. If hired, Godley said priorities include preparedness for disasters ranging from fires to floods and ensuring the success of alerts and warning systems.

“We want to have the best emergency management program in California,” he said. “We want to have the best resources and the best people trained.”

You can reach Staff Writer Hannah Beausang at 707-521-5214 or On Twitter @hannahbeausang.

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