By DOTTY NIST
Thirty-six people have applied for the vacant Walton County administrator position, and two meetings have been scheduled for application screening by a committee.
These were among the details reported by Chris Holley of the Florida Association of Counties (FAC) at a July 9 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) workshop at the South Walton Annex.
Two months earlier, the BCC had signed a contract with the FAC for assistance in vetting applicants for the position and in the selection of finalist candidates, with Holley overseeing the effort.
On July 9, Holley told the commissioners that he thought the county had a “good group” of applicants, one-third of whom were likely to have Florida management experience. He had spoken, he continued, with the three county administrators who had agreed to serve as an application screening committee. The committee members include: Vincent Long, Leon County administrator; Hunter Walker, Santa Rosa County administrator; and Ed Smith, Bay County administrator.
There was discussion on whether Walton County would reimburse travel expenses for a short list of five or so candidates to come to Walton County for interviews. Holley advised that the practice of reimbursement for these expenses is “normal and customary,” although not extending to family members of the candidates. It was discussed that payment for air fare would not be required in most cases, since the commissioners have indicated that their preference would be to hire someone with Florida experience.
Holley received direction from the BCC that reimbursement for these expenses would be possible “within reason.”
On the matter of reimbursement of relocation expenses for the candidate selected for the job, Holley advised that such reimbursement, within reason, is also customary. District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander agreed that reimbursement for moving expenses is a common practice, and she was of the opinion that the BCC should consider providing it “within reason.” District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows was in agreement. District 3 Commissioner Bill Imfeld asked what would be the definition of “reasonable.” Holley responded that that would mean based on the actual cost, probably in the $3,000-to-$5,000 range. Imfeld suggested capping the reimbursement at $5,000.
County Commission Chairman Kenneth Pridgen commented that, whether for travel or moving reimbursement, “I’m just a little leery of opening the checkbook up.”
Holley responded that the BCC would be able to control expenses for either type of reimbursement by taking charge of the arrangements for travel or moving. He said he “got the message” that these expenses must be reasonable and “not a blank check.”
Holley had a recommendation on the contract for the administrator. Noting that the BCC’s last contract had been for a term of two years, Holley said he would recommend a longer term. He advised giving the person hired “time to produce for you” before the commission is required to vote on whether or not to extend the administrator’s services.
Another of his recommendations was to meet with short-listed candidates in a community or social setting to see how they would interact with the public. Bob Hudson, executive director for the Walton County Taxpayers Association, later offered for the organization to host such a meeting.
Comander was of the opinion that more important than that would be providing for the commissioners to meet with candidates more than once. Imfeld was also interested in giving county staff the opportunity to meet candidates. “It’s a two-way street,” he commented.
Meadows emphasized the importance of showing candidates different areas of the county. She said that in the past when candidates had come to interview for county administrator and tourism council director, she had been surprised at their lack of knowledge of the area, adding that it is important for candidates’ families to be willing to move to Walton County. Showing the candidates different areas of the county would also be a chance to discuss with them how they would address issues in the county and what efforts they would undertake in the position, Meadows suggested.
“Excellent idea,” Holley responded.
He asked the commissioners for suggestions on what would be important to them with regard to a county administrator.
Comander responded an understanding of Florida and “our issues,” the problems and advantages of a coastal area. Being able to hold a conversation with anyone and listen, she added.
The ability to communicate with commissioners, county staff, and the public, Imfeld agreed, and also being able to listen. He emphasized the ability to help broaden economic development, as the current BCC is being “more aggressive” in this area.
Meadows saw as even more important than promoting economic development the ability to pull the different factions of the county together and “make things happen” in a way that all segments feel equitably represented. The person should know the demographics and issues of the county, she noted. Organization, staff and morale must be dealt with before economic development can be undertaken, Meadows argued. The person also needs to know the history of Walton County and the history of the administrator’s position, she added.
Imfeld said he would be looking for “a commitment to the county” on the part of the person.
Holley told the commissioners that plans were for the application screening committee to come before them at their Aug. 13 meeting with a short list of recommended candidates.
In the meantime, two meetings of the screening committee have been scheduled, both for 10 a.m. at the Walton County Administration Building at 76 North 6th Street in DeFuniak Springs. The first meeting is to be held on July 24, the second on July 31. While these are to be working meetings, they are open to public attendance, and Holley said that public comments would be taken.