By DOTTY NIST
Walton County commissioners have voted 3 to 2 to accept the resignation of Greg Kisela, county administrator since June 2011.
The decision took place at the May 22 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) regular meeting at the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs. It was not on the preliminary agenda provided for the meeting. Instead, at the outset of the meeting, District 2 Commissioner Kenneth Pridgen asked for an administration item to be added under the items he would be bringing up during the meeting.
When the time came for Pridgen to present the item, he announced that, resulting from a recent meeting between himself, Kisela, County Attorney Toni Craig, and the county human resources director, a proposed agreement for the voluntary resignation of Kisela had been drawn up.
Pridgen presented in written form a “motion to accept the voluntary resignation in good standing of Greg Kisela, effective June 22, 2012…” Attached to the motion were conditions, including payment to Kisela of “all accrued and unpaid salary and benefits, including vacation time” and severance pay equal to six months’ salary. A third condition stated: “Such payments shall be full and complete payment and satisfaction of any claims that Mr. Kisela may have against the county.”
The commissioners did not discuss the motion, and Kisela made no comment. District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander seconded, and the motion was approved 3-2, with Pridgen, Comander, and County Commission Chairman Scott Brannon voting in favor. District 5 Commissioner Cecilia Jones and District 3 Commissioner Larry Jones voted no.
After the vote, Pridgen conveyed thanks to Kisela for his service, recognizing Kisela’s wife, Lucy, who was in attendance, and adding “We sure appreciate you.”
The BCC also voted to put Assistant County Administrator Gerry Demers in place as interim administrator and Dede Hinote of county administration as interim assistant administrator.
In the public comment period that followed, community leader Bob Hudson questioned the commissioners as to whether there might be further obligations to Kisela as a result of his employment contract. Pridgen responded that the commitments outlined in the negotiated agreement would satisfy any such obligations.
“I’m trying to figure out why the man is leaving,” Hudson further commented. There was no response to that question.
“This is a sad day for Walton County,” south Walton County resident Mary Nielson told the commissioners. Nielson said Kisela had brought “a breath of fresh air” and “new professionalism” to Walton County.
“Where was the sunshine?” Nielson asked. “Three of you had already made up your minds,” she charged.
Pridgen responded that the agreement approved by the commissioners was the one that Kisela had requested.
Bad feelings toward Kisela by Brannon had become apparent during recent months, with Brannon verbally attacking the administrator during the April 10 BCC meeting for having met with citizen activist Suzanne Harris at her workplace several months previous to discuss the search and hiring process for a new county attorney. Calling the private meeting “inappropriate” due to Harris having ongoing litigation against the county, Brannon had said of Kisela, “He has obviously decided he does not work for this board.”
Brannon had also placed administration items on a number of meeting agendas in recent months, only to withdraw the items at the outset of the meetings, causing some in the community to speculate that he planned at some point to make a motion to fire Kisela.
However, at the May 22 meeting, Brannon graciously echoed Pridgen’s thanks to Kisela for his service and conveyed good wishes for his future endeavors.
Prior to coming on board with Walton County, Kisela had been employed as city manager for Destin. The Walton County commissioners has impressed on Kisela early on the high priority that they placed on the effort to four-lane U.S. 331 and the bay bridge, and soon after starting his employment as administrator he had expressed confidence that this could be achieved. This was a goal that Kisela actively pursued during his tenure with Walton County, and he leaves his position with plans and commitments in place for the four-laning of the U.S. 331 corridor in its entirety as far north as I-10 by 2017.