Bonnie Foster’s head should be spinning.
Her official title, executive secretary II, doesn’t come close to capturing the scope of her duties as a key behind-the-scenes member of the OCSD’s professional staff.
In addition to handling scheduling and countless other duties for Sheriff Don Barnes, she also keeps the trains running for Undersheriff Bob Peterson and other members of the command staff of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department at agency headquarters in Santa Ana.
But there she sits, calm and collected – serene, even.
Foster embodies the level-headed organizational skills needed to support the hectic activity of the law enforcement personnel in her department.
Top brass at the OCSD praise her.
“Bonnie is one of a kind,” former Sheriff Sandra Hutchens wrote in a May 2018 performance review. “She does an extraordinary amount of work with calm and grace. Everyone she has contact with is complimentary of her professionalism and respect.”
Foster says her at-will status as an employee of an elected county official made her a little nervous when, late last year, Barnes was transitioning into his current position from undersheriff.
As undersheriff, Barnes also gave Foster glowing reviews in that performance evaluation.
So keeping her as his trusted executive do-it-all was a no-brainer.
Foster wears a necklace she bought for herself six years ago, a time of great happiness when she landed her current job at the OCSD, but also a time of great challenge in her personal life when she ended a long-term relationship.
Her necklace says, “Peace, Joy, Love” – three gifts she aspires to experience daily.
“Those three words just kept resonating,” says Foster, a single mother of a son, Skylar, 20, a junior at USC who is studying interactive media and game design and is clearly her pride and joy.
She now is living life on her own terms.
In addition to his regular duties as leader of about 3,800 sworn and professional staff members and more than 800 reserve personnel, Barnes is either chairperson or a member of 33 outside organizations.
For Barnes and other top OCSD officials, Foster schedules engagements and meetings, manages domestic travel logistics and reimbursements, and prepares, edits, and proofreads correspondence.
She also responds to public record act requests, creates purchase orders and responds to invoices, processes incoming and outgoing mail, and answers the phone for the sheriff and undersheriff.
Foster also organizes department promotions and maintains the petty cash drawer for Administration and Public Affairs.
In her critical role at the agency, Foster has mastered the art of knowing how to talk to people at all levels of life, from leaders of government to average citizens.
And as an expert multi-tasker whose job never really ends at the end of the work day, you’ll never see her sweat under pressure.
Foster grew up in Arcadia near the Los Angeles County Arboretum. She has fond memories of feeding the peacocks in her front yard and watching morning workouts at the Santa Anita Race Track.
She describes her childhood growing up with two brothers and one sister as benign and surrounded by family pets.
She attended the same private school from nursery through the ninth grade, and credits this education and the love of her family with her compassion for animals and people and her desire to help others.
As a young girl, she excelled in ice skating and ballet. In high school, she was a song leader and member of the school dance group.
A lover of drawing and art, Foster initially wanted to be a fashion designer.
“But I decided at one point that it wasn’t going to be the most lucrative career,” she says with a laugh.
Foster planned on earning a degree in graphic design from Arizona State University, but switched to liberal arts and became interested in the business side of fashion.
“And so I decided that I wanted to work in the buying office of a department store,” she says.
After earning her B.S., Foster was hired in the management training program at The Broadway Stores Inc. in Los Angeles. But the mid-level department store chain went bankrupt after she was there for only six months.
Soon, she landed a job as a recruiter of high school honor students to USC’s liberal arts program. After doing that for a few years, Foster wanted to get back into retail and moved to Australia to work for a couple who had purchased the master license for Mail Boxes, Etc. in Australia and New Zealand.
“My work permit was granted on the basis that I would be replaced with an Australian, and it was only granted for one year,” Foster says.
Upon returning to the U.S., Foster moved to Washington D.C. and worked in the corporate office of Hecht’s, the east coast division of the May Company; later transferring back to Los Angeles and working in the corporate office of Robinson’s May.
Foster has lived in Orange County since 2004 and has been a single mother since then.
Before landing her first job with the county in October 2008, she worked as an office manager for a bariatric surgeon and for a surgery center in Newport Beach.
Foster’s first job with the county was executive secretary in the Office of Independent Review, which was established by the Orange County Board of Supervisors as an arm to oversee the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in the wake of the Chamberlain death in Orange County’s Theo Lacy jail.
In that role, Foster worked with a team that probed the inner workings of the OCSD.
Foster landed her current job after Linda Donoghue, who worked for Hutchens as executive secretary, decided to retire.
Donoghue heavily recruited Foster to apply for the job, and she nailed her interview and was hired on the spot.
Foster organizes some of her duties by using colored folders.
For example, her to-do folder is red, and a folder filled with paperwork that needs signatures or responses from OCSD officials is purple.
“I like to say I’m their right-hand man and logistical specialist who makes sure they are going to the right place and have everything they need to be prepared to do their job,” Foster says of her position.
“Honestly, the thing I like most about my job are the people I get to work with. It’s actually really fun. And I’ve learned how to let things be and be OK when I know I can’t get everything done in one day.”
As a back-up plan, should she change careers in the future out of necessity or choice, Foster earned a Paralegal Certificate on May 31, 2019 from Coastline Community College.
Outside of work, Foster serves as a volunteer with HARK (Healing Arts Reaching Kids), a non-profit that teaches kids art, music and other creative endeavors to help them cope with their illnesses or injuries while at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
She also is a former volunteer with Trauma Intervention Program (TIP) Orange County, a non-profit organization that provides support to people following a tragedy.
She plans to re-join TIP this fall.
“When my father died in 1989,” Foster says, “he was alone, and I was alone when I learned of his passing. I don’t want anyone to feel the way I did and I want to be there to help people.”
Her father, a physicist, died when she was in college. He was the project manager at JPL for the first seismometer to go to the moon on Apollo 11.
Foster goes to church every week.
“Faith is definitely important to me,” she says. “It’s helped me to become peaceful.”
To stay in shape, Foster is into yoga and weights.
And you’re likely to run into her at hockey games, but she’s a Kings fan (sorry, Ducks).
And her football team is the Dallas Cowboys (sorry, Chargers and Rams).
It might not come as a surprise she is also a Dodgers fan (sorry, Angels).
Foster has mastered the delicate art of dancing at the highest levels of county bureaucracy.
She’s also into the two-step, the bread and butter of the country western dance floor.
“All you need are boots and a smooth floor,” Foster says.