By DOTTY NIST
Discussion at the May 24 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting resulted in a decision to reopen advertising and accepting of applications for the vacant county administrator job.
The meeting took place at the South Walton Annex.
The search firm enlisted by the county for assistance in filling the vacant county administrator position is being tasked with reopening advertising and taking applications and resumes from additional candidates. In addition to allowing for new applications, the BCC decision also provided for 41 candidates who had already applied to continue to be considered for the job.
In January 2022, the BCC had voted to engage the search firm, GovHR USA, to take charge of the search for a new county administrator, with the company handling all recruiting efforts for the position.
Clay Adkinson, acting county attorney, provided an update on the recruitment effort at the May 24 BCC meeting.
Adkinson observed that GovHR USA had received over 60 applications for the position and had identified a short list of 12 applicants, applicants that the search firm had pre-vetted and ranked in top tiers one and two for the commissioners.
He also observed that in recent meetings with individual commissioners GovHR USA had discussed these 12 applications with the officials plus GovHR USA’s findings and thoughts on these applications.
Adkinson explained that the search firm was now asking for direction from the BCC as to whether to remove anyone from the list, interview any of the 12 candidates individually, hold a special meeting to interview one or more of those candidates, or direct that GovHR USA re-advertise and continue the search process.
Per the discussion, the search firm had suggested that the commissioners select four of the 12 top-ranked candidates to interview.
Adkinson noted that for executive level positions such as this one, given such factors as relocation and housing costs, inflation and recessionary fears, it often takes multiple cycles of advertising positions and taking applications to refine the list of top-ranked candidates and arrive at multiple candidates that are suitable for interviewing.
District 1 Commissioner Boots McCormick asked if the officials would be restricted to interviewing candidates from the short list of 12—or if they would be able to interview others who had applied.
Adkinson replied that although it would be up to the BCC who they would want to interview, he would advise that if the commissioners wanted to “explore additional candidates beyond the 12,” that GovHR USA had vetted to be the “most fit” based on the job description approved by the BCC, it would be appropriate to have the search firm re-advertise rather than interviewing someone not included with the 12 top-tier candidates. He recommended against “cherry-picking” from applicants outside of the list of 12 due to the risk of complaints from some of the applicants about the process.
McCormick asked if the search firm’s recommendations were not “just more of a suggestion,” such as the BCC receives from, for example, advisory boards and advisors. He said he was having trouble understanding why the only resumes the BCC had been able to see were those from the list of 12 candidates.
Adkinson replied that it would be possible to direct GovHR USA to provide the BCC with all applications and resumes submitted—but that his understanding was that the only resumes that had been furnished to the commissioners had been those of the 12 tier one and tier two candidates—plus a complete list of 41 candidates who had met minimum qualifications for the job. However, he continued to advise against interviewing candidates outside the top 12 without different, additional instructions being given to the search firm for future recommendations to be brought back.
Not specifying their reasons, several of the commissioners indicated that they were not happy with the candidates who had been selected as the top 12.
With District 2 Commissioner Danny Glidewell asking if it would be proper to have the search firm re-advertise to try to be able to get some more applicants, Adkinson responded that this would be proper. He also said it would be possible to “do a hybrid” of reopening the advertisement for new applicants combined with asking the search firm to notify the existing applicants of the reopening plus that all applications previously submitted would be reviewed by the commissioners rather than having a short list presented to the officials.
“So you can do both and accomplish both of those measures, if that’s what you want,” Adkinson said.
“I would accept that as a compromise,” McCormick responded.
Glidewell moved to proceed in that manner, and McCormick seconded.
In response to a question in public comment, McCormick clarified that his goal had not been to open the door for new candidates but to be able to look at and consider candidates from the group who had already applied, outside of those ranked in the top two tiers. However McCormick indicated that he was willing to go with the process described in the motion in order to be able to do the latter.
In response to other public comment, it was clarified that the motion did not modify the existing job description.
It was also indicated that the approximate time for each cycle of advertising after the initial one would be 30 days.
Glidewell was complimentary about the search firm and their competence, and particularly about the Walton County brochure that they had created in connection with the recruiting effort. However, he said that there had been questions about how the applicants had been graded, mentioning that a number of sitting county administrators and assistant county administrators who had applied had not been ranked in the top 12. “And I just think it would be better to see those 41 resumes and do my own picking,” he commented.
The motion was approved unanimously.