By DOTTY NIST
A committee composed of three area county administrators recently met and chose six candidates to recommend for consideration for the vacant post of Walton County administrator.
The screening committee’s July 24 meeting at the Walton County Administration Building was part of the services provided to Walton County by the Florida Association of Counties (FAC) as part of a contract with Walton County. In May, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) had approved the contact, which provides for the FAC’s assistance with the county administrator selection process and the identification of applicants recommended for interviewing by the commissioners as finalist candidates.
Walton County is the first county to utilize this new service offered by the FAC.
FAC Executive Director Chris Holley, a former county administrator and manager with more than 30 years in the field, has served as Walton County’s contact with the FAC in connection with the contract. Holley facilitated the July 24 meeting, with the three-member committee of county administrators from Leon County, Santa Rosa County, and Bay County reviewing applications and formulating a decision on candidate recommendations. Also in attendance were several Walton County staff members, including Dede Hinote, interim assistant administrator, and Brady Bearden, county support services director/human resources director. Gerry Demers, interim county administrator, was present for part of the meeting, as well.
Thirty-six applications were on file at the time of the July 24 meeting. Advertising for the postion had requested that applications be submitted by June 28. However, at Holley’s recommendation, the BCC had opted not to close off the procedure to new applicants by that date.
Near the outset of the July 24 meeting Holley told the screening committee members that the BCC had requested a recommendation for five candidates but added that he did not think that number was “hard and fast.” The panel members discussed the applications that each had identified as promising. Provided by the BCC, a list of “Attributes of an Ideal Candidate for County Administrator” was consulted for guidance. The attributes included Florida experience, a knowledge of Florida issues to include Panhandle and coastal specific issues, tourism experience, strong communication skills and being a good listener, economic development skills, facilitation and community consensus builder abilities, ability to get the job done fairly, team building skills, ability to create stability in the organization, morale building skills, and commitment.
One promising applicant, Ben Pingree of Wakulla County, was removed from consideration due to his having recently accepted employment as a vice president with the Economic Development Council of Tallahassee-Leon County.
. Two applicants who had applied for the administrator position when it was previously vacant in late 2012, Ted Lakey and Lyndon Bonner, both of whom were finalists, were discussed. Bearden told the committee members that three of the commissioners had indicated that their preference would be not to interview these two candidates again for consideration as administrator.
Larry Jones, a former Walton County commissioner who currently serves as special projects coordinator for the county, had also been a finalist candidate for county administrator in 2012 and has applied for the position again. Holley reported that some of the commissioners had indicated willingness to interview and consider Jones for the job. Hinote noted that commissioners had made favorable comments about Jones’ performance in his current job, which has included work of the same nature that would be done by an administrator. She added that other pluses for Jones are that he knows and understands the dynamics and people of the area.
Holley referenced a letter that he had received from a group called Citizens for a Better Government that had been critical of Jones being considered for the position. This was due to a prohibition in the county’s employee handbook on transfers for employees who have been in their current job for less than six months. Jones began work as special projects coordinator in April 2013.
Committee member/Bay County Administrator Ed Smith commented that he was not sure that the prohibition would be applicable. Hinote was also of the opinion that it would not apply, due to a county administrator being hired by and working directly under the supervision of the BCC. This is in contrast with almost all other county employees, who are supervised through a county department.
The committee members discussed Tony Gomillion, another current applicant who, like Jones, has never “sat in the chair” of county administrator or manager but who, it was noted, has many desirable attributes, among those strong people skills, an understanding of performance management, and a keen sensitivity. Gomillion currently holds the position of public service director for Santa Rosa County.
Committee member/Leon County Administrator Vince Long declared that Walton County should be able to attract a “top-notch professional manager” in the prime of his career, and he was of the opinion that it would be in the county’s best interest to hire such a person. Obviously, this would be the preference of the committee as members of their profession, Long observed.
Candidates with local government administration/management experience were referred to by the comittee as “traditional candidates.”
The committee reached consensus on four candidates to recommend, all of which were observed to have experience in county management or administration. These included Jack Brown of Taylor County, Wendell Taylor of Hendry County, Ron Rabun of Spalding County, Ga., and Richard Hampton of Jefferson County, Ga.
Other than Jones and Gomillion, no additional candidate emerged from the discussion. Committee member/Santa Rosa County Administrator Hunter Walker noted that without question Jones and Gomillion did meet the minimum qualifications for the position.
Long suggested that the committee recommendation should include the four “traditional candidates,” along with the two “non-traditional candidates,” who, he noted, do possess attributes in keeping with those that had been specified by the commissioners. This was agreed on after some discussion.
Holley agreed to craft a report containing those recommendations. The committee’s recommendations will be presented officially to the BCC at its Aug. 13 regular meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. and take place at the South Walton Courthouse Annex. At that time the commissioners may make a decision on which candidates to interview for the position.