The list of difficult tasks facing Williams is daunting.

James R. Williams

This editorial is the opinion of Morgan Hill Life

With the recent appointment of James Williams as Santa Clara County’s new chief executive officer, the county has made history by selecting its first person of color to fill the pivotal leadership role. We at Morgan Hill Life wish him much luck in his new job.

Williams brings a wealth of experience and talent to guide the county government through complex challenges ahead. His personal background also reflects the diversity of Santa Clara County’s residents, sending an important message of representation and inclusion.

As the son of immigrants from India and Iran who was raised by a single mother, Williams deeply understands the everyday struggles many local families face.

His ascent from modest means to one of the most powerful positions in the county exemplifies the possibilities America can offer to immigrants and their children. It is fitting that the county now has an executive whose life journey mirrors that of so many in the community he serves.

Beyond his symbolic value, Williams has demonstrated throughout his career an intimate knowledge of and commitment to Santa Clara County.

He previously served as county counsel, deputy county executive, and in other roles within county government for more than a decade. During the COVID-19 crisis, Williams was instrumental in spearheading the county’s nationally-lauded pandemic response. This hands-on knowledge dealing with the county’s massive bureaucracy and $11.5 billion budget is invaluable.

Williams’ sterling educational credentials, graduating summa cum laude from Princeton University and earning a law degree from Stanford Law School, also demonstrate his intellectual heft. He has received numerous accolades, including California Lawyer of the Year. Clearly, Williams possesses the expertise and vision needed in an executive of his stature.

The list of difficult tasks facing Williams is daunting. He must find solutions for the lack of mental health services, homelessness, potential budget deficits, the need for a new jail, and major staffing shortages. Fortunately, his track record of successfully handling thorny issues proves he is up for these challenges.

Critically, Williams arrives at a time of transition, taking over for retired CEO Jeff Smith who gave 42 years in public service. While fresh perspectives are beneficial, too abrupt of leadership changes can derail progress. Williams promises continuity, having worked closely with Smith and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors already. This should prevent any major disruptions to ongoing initiatives.

Some may question Williams’ young age of just 39 to assume the chief executive mantle.

However, his youth paired with prominence brings admirable representation for the county’s millennials and younger generations. Much of the county’s future rests in their hands. They deserve a seat at the table.

One major issue facing Santa Clara County is the vast economic inequality between the wealthy and lower-income residents. As the third wealthiest county in America, Santa Clara County is home to booming tech giants and startups, leading to a soaring cost of living.

However, many families still struggle to afford basic needs. As someone who grew up modestly, Williams must make uplifting the economically disadvantaged a priority. Potential actions include affordable housing policies, living wage measures, expanded social services, and programs to increase access to high-paying jobs. With smart leadership and a dedication to equity, Williams can help bridge the wide wealth gap to create a more just and inclusive county for all.

As Williams sets his agenda, our hope is that he keeps the South Valley firmly in focus. While the communities of Morgan Hill, Gilroy and San Martin and rural residents contain only 5 percent of Santa Clara County’s population, the region represents about half the county’s land area.

With the local agribusiness heritage in decline and our residents facing persistent challenges like affordable housing and transportation access, the South Valley warrants special attention from the new CEO. We urge Williams to regularly engage with South Valley leaders, ensure equitable resource allocation, and elevate rural priorities that align with the county’s goals.

With inclusive leadership embracing the entire county, Williams can uplift often overlooked communities in the South Valley and fully deliver on his promise to advance equity.

While Williams undoubtedly has earned this historic appointment, the true test lies ahead in how he leads. Thankfully, his long track record of success for Santa Clara County and passion for public service indicate he is the right person to take the reins. The county faces no shortage of issues that require deft leadership. But by choosing one of their own who understands firsthand the lives of all residents, Santa Clara County gives itself the best possible opportunity to flourish under William’s tenure.