When Terri Maus-Nisich was hired as Santa Barbara County’s new Parks Director 21 years ago, she never imagined that her career would take her to the CEO’s office or that she would help lead the County through over 50 emergency operations center activations, build a new communications and legislative program, or bring groundbreaking homeless and health and human services programs to the region, but that is exactly what happened.
Hired as the County’s new Parks Director in 2002, Terri was thrilled to lead a department that was filled with so many great memories of her childhood. Camping at Lake Cachuma with her family, exploring the many beautiful parks with friends, graduating from UC Santa Barbara and eventually getting married in Santa Barbara County; it would seem that all roads led to the county she loved!
Just three months into her job as Parks Director, the County was hit with a dangerous El Nino storm that threatened Goleta Beach Park. Without Terri’s experience and quick response, the high storm surge may have taken out the beloved beach park, but her strategic decision to bring in thousands of pounds of rock to stabilize and hold the park saved it from ruin. It wasn’t long before Terri’s hard work on this and other projects was noticed and she was promoted to the CEO’s office where she served for 18 years, working collaboratively to solve problems and with a bias for action.
Over the last two decades, Terri has had an impact on numerous County programs, projects and initiatives, but a handful really stand out for her. Understanding the great need for improved behavioral health services, Terri led the system change effort to stabilize the County’s then mental health department implementing a comprehensive plan to improve service delivery and enhance facilities. Following the impact of COVID-19, Terri inspired the launch of a countywide survey to assess the mental health impact of the pandemic in our local communities, and spurred the development of new services designed to uniquely address community needs and support local recovery from the pandemic.
Terri was also responsible for establishing the County’s first communication and legislative programs. Terri developed the County’s Public Information Team by adding departmental public information officers and establishing the communication systems the County has today, including emergency communications. She also developed and implemented the County’s legislative program processes that the Board of Supervisors utilizes each year to set forth County’s priorities and positions on state and federal legislative policy and respond to emerging legislative issues.
One of Terri’s favorite projects was helping to establish a variety of facilities for unhoused community members. Working with internal and external partners, Terri was instrumental in implementing the DignityMoves concept in Santa Barbara County. This innovative collaboration initially established 35 interim supportive housing units with an additional 189 units on the way. Over the next several years, there will be hundreds of beds for persons seeking shelter.
“Our homeless services and the new units have made a difference in our county and really shows that, at our very essence, the County works to improve the overall health and well-being for our most vulnerable people,” shared Terri. “We are, oftentimes, the provider of last resort and the social safety net system for so many. Having those supportive housing units in place is helping those in critical need of facilities and services, and I’m so happy to see that progress being made in our county.”
In her time with the County, Terri has faced her share of challenges, the most memorable being the response and recovery for the Thomas Fire and 1/9 Debris Flow, as well as from the COVID-19 global pandemic. “These are incidents where you bring everything you have ever learned throughout your career to the table in service to the community or in the case of COVID, to the whole county,” said Terri. The county communications team provided 24-7 communications and response to the community, the press, and other agencies, breaking ground with whole community recovery and communications best practices.
Thinking about her career, Terri looks back with fondness on her time with the County. “I love that every single day, working as part of a great team, there was an opportunity to directly impact communities and individuals in positive ways—that is why I’m in public service,” Terri stated. “Our Board of Supervisors works diligently to enhance quality of life in our communities, and I am honored to have had the opportunity to support their vision. It has been my absolute pleasure to work with our Board of Supervisors throughout the years and under the leadership of Mona Miyasato. Her unwavering support of County staff and the residents we work to serve has always been greatly appreciated.”
“Terri’s longstanding dedication to the County of Santa Barbara and to the communities we serve is unparalleled. Much of what we have built over Terri’s 21-year tenure is a direct result of her leadership, vision and commitment,” said County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato. “I’m honored to have had a front-row seat to witness Terri cementing her enduring legacy with the County that will serve many generations to come. Terri’s caring demeanor and impact over her storied career will be truly missed by all of us who were fortunate to work so closely with her.”
Terri shared she’s going to miss getting to know the new employees the County recently hired. “Over the last five years we have been working to transform our organization. I will miss seeing how the organization evolves, but I know that it will continue to progress and thrive under the leadership of the Board of Supervisors and CEO Miyasato.