[caption id="attachment_47434" align="alignleft" width="224" caption="Lisa Wittke Schaffner"][/caption]

SANTA ROSA -- Lisa Wittke Schaffner plans to step down after seven years as top executive of the Sonoma County Alliance, a 380-member political action group.

Effective March 1, Ms. Schaffner, 42, plans to leave her role as chief executive officer of the alliance, which describes itself as "a coalition of business, agriculture, labor and individuals organized to protect private property rights, to encourage a healthy economy, to maintain a sound environment and to promote a responsive political process."

She said the timing of her departure from the alliance coincides with her new role as executive director of a charitable Jordan family foundation that local lawyer and vintner John Jordan plans to launch in March. The nonprofit likely will focus on promoting advancement in education, something she said interests her greatly, potentially through matching grants both in this area and elsewhere.

The change also comes as she feels she's taken the alliance to a new level of diverse membership and wider-spread acceptance.

"The alliance is finally being seen as the voice for business," she said.

For example, it used to be that candidates for offices in traditionally business-wary locales such as Sebastopol would have shunned endorsements from the Sonoma County Alliance Political Action Committee. Now, such candidates are seeking such backing from labor groups and the SCA.

"Economic growth and jobs seems to be of common interest for a diverse cross section of people," said Iver Skavdal, 2012 alliance president and Santa Rosa operations manager for engineering company GHD/Winzler & Kelly.

In 2004, at the start of Ms. Schaffner's second term as a Healdsburg councilmember, she took the helm of an organization with 180 members. At that time, about 50 attended the monthly midweek breakfast meetings, and the membership was largely what it had been since its found in 1975, largely real estate developers and agents, farmers, construction contractors and officials at chambers of commerce.

Now about 250 attend the group's meetings, and membership now includes small-business owners, leaders of nonprofits, trade union officials and representatives from fire, police and other local government departments.

"Part of the reason it's done so well is because it's harder to do business," Ms. Schaffner said. "People want to be in the same room to talk about the issues."

The alliance has started looking for a new chief executive and wants to have a replacement ready by March, according to Mr. Skavdal. However, the organization wants to have the right mix of administrative skills and community leadership, so the group is planning to have members help in the meantime.