Don Ashton, Chief Administrative Officer
El Dorado County
October 5, 2020
El Dorado County CAO Don Ashton kicks off our Membership Monday series to showcase excellence in county service. We asked Don a wide variety of questions about life and County service. Here are some highlights.
What motivated you to enter public service?
Honestly, I didn’t study hard enough in college to do what I originally wanted….to obtain a Masters in Physical Therapy. As a result, I had to find my quickest way out of college and that was to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Environment Management.
I then needed a job and the first one I could find was as an Environmental Health Specialist with Los Angeles County. Working in that capacity for about two years exposed me to the wide variety of jobs available in county government and it struck a chord with me. As a result, in 1995 I continued working full time but went back to school to obtain a Master’s in Public Administration.
From that point forward I saw the need and the opportunity to help our community in so many different ways, from working in county administration to health services and social services to partnering with non-profits.
What’s your favorite movie of all time?
What makes El Dorado County special?
The level of community engagement and collaboration for a county of approximately 190,000 residents is off the charts. While there are many disagreements, at the end of the day the level of collaboration between the public sector (counties and cities), education sector and private/non-profit sector, including our hospitals and healthcare network, allows El Dorado County to accomplish some amazing things for a county our size.
On any given day we can pull leaders from any of these sectors into a conversation to identify the best way to address a challenge in our community. I’m obviously biased, but I would put our team of leaders from each of these sectors up against any team of leaders in any county, regardless of the size.
Who is your hero?
My wife, whom I first met in 2nd grade and graduated high school with. We never knew each other that well, but we reconnected at 39 years old and married at 40 years old. She is the most generous and caring person I have ever met, pushing us to serve our community through foster care, allowing select homeless families to stay in our home when we are on vacation, serving our little town through fund raisers to raise money for food closets, and the list goes on. She is the most selfless person I know and is a daily reminder of what all of us should have as our primary purpose in life.
Do you have any words of advice for someone interested in becoming a CAO?
Don’t become a CAO because you think you would enjoy the “power.” You won’t last. Become a CAO if you love to serve….to serve your Board, to serve your Department Heads and employees and to serve your community. If you have this approach you will be successful and will receive more professional and personal satisfaction than you could ever imagine….and having thick skin doesn’t hurt.