By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Lisa Wittke Schaffner, the chief executive officer for the business lobbying group Sonoma County Alliance, is stepping down to lead a private foundation.
Schaffner will become president of a foundation funded by vintner John Jordan on March 1, she confirmed Wednesday.
She managed the alliance for seven years and was given credit for helping to broaden its original developer-builder core membership.
“She made an effort to be much more ecumenical, to have it reach out to a much broader audience, and in my opinion not be as confrontational,” said Rohnert Park Mayor Jake Mackenzie. “She made an effort to try to bring people together.”
Membership in the Sonoma County Alliance more than doubled during Schaffner’s tenure, increasing from about 180 to 380 members. Labor unions, nonprofit groups and members of the restaurant and hospitality industry joined, along with agricultural representatives.
“She has helped the alliance grow to be, in my opinion, the leading voice of business in Sonoma County,” said Iver Skavdal, a civil engineer and the organization’s incoming president.
He said the alliance will conduct a “grassroots” effort to fill her position.
Economic development, job creation and protecting private property rights are at the top of the Alliance’s agenda, as well as promoting the SMART passenger train, Highway 101 improvements and county airport expansion.
But the Alliance also has signed on to the climate protection campaign.
Members meet once a month with featured speakers at the Santa Rosa Golf and Country Club.
Schaffner said the top priority is “whatever it takes to maintain a healthy business climate in Sonoma County.” She said that sometimes involves “talking to elected officials.”
The Alliance also has a political action committee that interviews and gives donations to candidates for county supervisor and city councils.
“Our PAC is more influential than it was,” she said. “Most candidates seek our endorsement now.”
Schaffner, 42, a former Healdsburg City Council member who served twice as mayor, knows how government works.
She was previously a county planning commissioner appointed by North County Supervisor Paul Kelley. When Mike McGuire was elected to Kelley’s old seat in 2010, he appointed Schaffner to a position on the Sonoma County Fair Board.
The Alliance has an annual budget of approximately $225,000, but no offices and no staff other than Schaffner, who answers to a 51-member board of directors and 20-member executive board.
Schaffner said she works out of her home and coffee houses. “I know every coffee house from here (Healdsburg) to the Sonoma border south.”
She said she has known Jordan for more than 20 years.
Jordan, 39, ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 1998 and has since turned his attention to running the winery his father, oil tycoon Tom Jordan, founded in 1972.
The new foundation probably will be called the Jordan Foundation and is still “a work in progress,” she said. It will likely focus on education and programs that “make sure kids not only graduate, but end up in some vocation,” she said.