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New county commission holds first meeting

Nov 29th, 2012 | 0

By DOTTY NIST

What had originally been scheduled as just an organizational first meeting for the new Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) included action and discussion on a number of matters.

The Nov. 20 meeting, the first for newly-sworn commissioners Bill Chapman, Bill Imfeld, and Cindy Meadows, took place at the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs. Chapman, Imfeld, and Meadows represent districts 1, 3 and 5, respectively.

At their Oct. 27 regular meeting, the previous commission had made the decision to add one item, the setting of a public hearing, to the agenda,. A roadway activities application for a parade on CR-30A was also added to the agenda, and by Nov. 20, four items requested for addition by Meadows had been put on the agenda as well.

The new commission began by selecting a chairman (District 2 Commissioner Kenneth Pridgen) and a vice chair (District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander.) These are the two incumbent commissioners.

The commissioners voted to schedule a public hearing to consider an ad valorem tax exemption in connection with the expansion of Professional Products, a company providing medical and other equipment both nationally and internationally. Located in DeFuniak Springs, Professional Products plans to purchase a building near its current facility for the expansion. According to Scarlett Phaneuf of the Walton County Economic Development Alliance, the company has been operating in Walton County since 1959, employs 150 people, and has never laid off an employee. The expansion would add 15 new full-time jobs, she detailed.

There would be a total capital investment by the company of $2.5 million in connection with the expansion, according to the proposed ordinance whereby the BCC would approve the tax exemption. Losses to the county for the current fiscal year in connection with the tax exemption are stated as $4,445.38 for improvements to real estate and $2,845.04 for personal property. The exemption would remain effective for up to 10 years.

In the 2012 General Election, county voters had authorized the commissioners to consider granting tax exemptions to new or expanding businesses who would be creating new jobs in Walton County. A public hearing is required in connection with each tax exemption request. The public hearing for Professional Products’ request was scheduled for 4 p.m. on Dec. 11 at the South Walton Courthouse Annex, in conjunction with the regular BCC meeting on that date.

In other action, the commissioners approved Seaside Arts and Entertainment Corporation’s application to close down part of CR-30A for an hour or less in connection with the annual South Walton Holiday Parade on Nov. 24.

Dede Hinote, interim assistant county administrator, told the commissioners that she, Brady Bearden, and Dawn Moliterno, had gone through all 48 applications for the vacant county administrator position to verify which applicants meet minimum qualifications and have required skills and abilities. Moliterno is South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) executive director, and Bearden is county support services director. Hinote said a package was being provided to each commissioner including this information.

She suggested that each commissioner choose five to seven applicants that they would like to consider—and that the BCC vote at their Dec. 18 meeting to determine final applicants to be interviewed, with interviews to take place between that date and Jan. 8, when the commissioners would vote to select an administrator. Meadows objected to interviews of final candidates being set up all on the same day, as had been the recent practice. She called for more time to be taken in the selection process. Meadows noted that this is a “critical position.”

Comander was of the opinion that holding all the interviews in one day had worked well when the BCC had done it previously. Pridgen expressed concern that the applicants would not be able to stay in Walton County long enough to be interviewed if the interviews were spread out over several days or longer.

Bob Hudson encouraged the commissioners to take their time and “get it right.” He said he was not sure how well the previous process had worked due to the last administrator not staying in the position very long. After approximately one year on the job, previous Walton County Administrator Greg Kisela had tentatively consented to an agreement to voluntarily resign, then opted not follow through with the agreement, and finally was terminated for no cause by the BCC.

Comander responded that, although Kisela had turned out not to be the right fit for the job, in her opinion it was not the selection process that had been the problem.

In response to Meadows’ comments, Hinote suggested putting off the date for a final decision on an administrator to the Jan. 22 BCC meeting. She also pledged to set up the interviews to accommodate both the commissioners and the candidates.

Later Meadows questioned another aspect of the county administrator selection process, Hinote, Moliterno and Bearden’s review of the applications for minimum qualifications and required skills and abilities. She saw this as a conflict. “That’s going to be their… direct supervisor,” Meadows said of the administrator.

Meadows called for such review in the future to be conducted by impartial residents

Comander pointed out that the BCC, not the county administrator, supervises the TDC director. Meadows responded that that could change if the BCC decides to put that position under administration. There has been some support in the community for this change.

There was discussion that, along with Hinote, Moliterno and Bearden’s findings, each commissioner was being provided with all 48 applications—and could “pull out” any of the applications as one of their selections, regardless of the conclusions of the review. Imfeld commented that he planned to go through all 48 applications.

Resident Alan Osborne, who has served in the military, remarked that no service person who is a subordinate would take part in choosing a comander. He suggested that each commissioner either go through all the applications or that the BCC hire an independent contractor to do so. He requested that county staff not be involved in this way.

Hinote clarified that there had been no “selection committee.” In response to a question after the meeting, she explained that no applications had been selected or even flagged for the commissioners. Instead, the findings of the people reviewing the applications were detailed on a spread sheet that was included with copies of all 48 applications that were provided to each of the commissioners.

Meadows also brought up the matter of the new $86,600 special projects coordinator position that the BCC had voted to fund from the landfill reserves fund. She said she had understood that the position would not only deal with RESTORE Act projects but also economic development projects—and that she thought the economic development aspect had now been dropped from the job description. She also had concerns that the work involved with the position would duplicate that already being done by current staff…..

Read the full story in the Nov. 29, 2012 edition of the Herald Breeze.

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