By DOTTY NIST
Assistant County Administrator Gerry Demers will again be heading up Walton County Administration for at least a number of months, as county commissioners look to the Florida Association of Counties (FAC) to recommend candidates for the vacant county administrator position.
These were decisions made by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) at its April 9 meeting at the South Walton Courthouse Annex, following a vote to accept a resignation letter from Bob Halfhill.
Halfhill had submitted his resignation on April 2, effective April 3, after serving approximately four weeks in the county administrator position.
After the acceptance of the letter, County Commission Chairman Kenneth Pridgen noted that work on the 2013-14 budget is underway and that a number of important projects and issues are ongoing for the county. He suggested putting Demers in charge at least through November to see those efforts through. Pridgen asked for input on what direction the other commissioners would like to take on the matter.
District 3 Commissioner Bill Imfeld said he would like the BCC to consider utilizing a “head hunting” service offered by the FAC for assistance in filling the county administrator position. It would be possible to request recommendations for a number of candidates to be considered, he explained.
“I like that idea a lot,” responded District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows. She was in favor of pursuing this avenue immediately
It was discussed that the FAC would be able to not only advertise for candidates but recruit for potential candidates and vet those people.
District 1 Commissioner Bill Chapman was also in favor of utilizing the FAC service while having Demers to serve as interim administrator. “Let’s get through the budget cycle,” he suggested.
Imfeld noted that most of the work on the budget would be accomplished by mid-July. He spoke to the need to have “a strong county administrator on board as soon as we can.” Demers, he noted, would also be able to apply for the administrator position if he so desired.
Demers had submitted an application for the county administrator position the last time applicants were sought in late 2012, but he had later withdrawn his application.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander also like the idea of seeking assistance from the FAC’s “head hunters.” She observed that the commissioners had looked to Demers a number of times in similar situations, and she credited him for his efforts. “He has worked for us and done a good job…he has shown us quiet strength and leadership,” Comander said. She was in favor of Demers applying for the administrator position and being considered along with other candidates.
Demers has been called on to step into the leadership position for county administration for extended periods at times when the BCC was without a county administrator, including several months in 2011 after the resignation of Lyle Seigler, former county administrator, and the approximately nine months following the “without cause” termination of Greg Kisela, who served as administrator until June 2012.
Chapman said he understood that after Kisela’s departure, Demers had been directed to “maintain the status quo” in the administrator’s position. He was in favor of granting Demers full decision-making authority if he were asked to step into the leadership position again.
Imfeld then moved to do so, utilize the FAC “head hunting” service and request a list of recommended county administrator candidates by July 15. Meadows seconded, and the commissioners and staff discussed the proposed action.
Imfeld said he thought the time frame proposed was “quite doable.” Meadows noted that the BCC could give the FAC their criteria for candidates. The advantage, she said, would be that the plan would put “all the work” on the FAC and not on county staff.
Demers detailed that there would be a fee for the FAC’s service, but it would be about half of that charged by other professional “head hunters.” The FAC personnel would talk with the BCC during the process, he said, and they would actively recruit potential candidates.
A vote was taken on Imfeld’s motion, and it carried unanimously.
In other business related to the county administrator position, Interim County Attorney Mark Davis commented later in the meeting that an investigation continues to proceed with regard to Halfhill. There had been reports of unofficial employee complaints against the former administrator shortly prior to his departure. Outside consultants have been enlisted to research the situation.
Davis also reported that county administration had been asked to enter into an after-the-fact “exit agreement” with Halfhill. He asked the BCC for direction on this request. The only response was a motion to adjourn, and the meeting was concluded at that time.