My Camden County story:
I was visiting my friend Jack — we’ll return to him in a minute — in St. Marys, a quaint town in southeast Georgia just across the Florida state line.
We had tickets for Florida-Georgia at Jacksonville. But we were going via bus with Jack and his buddies, all red-and-black decked Bulldogs. I grabbed a raincoat from my car and didn’t realize — seriously — until too late that the jacket — haha! — is orange and blue.
“You can’t wear this!” Jack hissed at me.
Not only did I sit Gator blue/orange amongst a sea of black/red, Florida won the game and I took home the $300 big prize in the squares pool. Chomp!
While I haven’t visited in a while, Camden County conjures up fond memories.
So when I saw Steve Howard’s name among the qualified applicants for Citrus County administrator, I felt a little connection since Howard is administrator in Camden County.
And now he’s the guy, the one that commissioners are apparently willing to pay close to $200,000 a year for, impressed enough from a single hour-long job interview that Howard and Citrus County are the right fit.
They’ve been somewhat vague as to their reasoning. Howard's big on strategic planning, economic development, building community consensus — certainly all the buzz words we’re looking for in an administrator.
So, a few points:
— I know we’re all googling Steve Howard’s name and seeing all sorts of things come up. Look. It’s the rare administrator or manager who comes into a new community without baggage from the one he’s leaving. These jobs have a general life of 5 to 7 years and any administrator in the thick of things is going to have his name in the headlines frequently.
— Quite a bit of info about Spaceport Camden. Not our issue and I don’t want to debate it. But Camden County is involved in significant litigation over the project, including a case heard this week before the Georgia Supreme Court where the county is trying to void results of a referendum against the spaceport.
I would certainly hope at least one of our commissioners asked Howard about those court cases and if/how it’ll interfere with his job in Citrus County.
— Howard gets props for being ultra prepared for his interview. He brought a brochure, of sorts, kind of like a PowerPoint on himself. It gave specific examples of his successes in government services, strategic planning, community involvement and economic partnerships. (No mention of the spaceport.)
That was a brilliant move on Howard’s part. Shows innovation and intuition.
— I mentioned my friend Jack. He is the only person I know who is extremely familiar with both Howard and Citrus County. I asked for his impressions. He said Howard took the job in 2007 while Camden County was in some political upheaval. We can relate, right?
Jack’s email to me:
“Howard was a stabilizing force who gained the support and confidence of commissioners because of his management skills, ability to create plans and follow through on them (like a master plan with annual meetings to discuss status and goals accomplished and reasons for ones that weren’t), and he was great at getting state and federal grants. He also earned the county lots of state and federal accolades along the way.”
Jack continues: “His one criticism is his dogged pursuit for a spaceport. He was successful in getting a launch site license from the FAA, which is a very complicated process. But rockets would have to be launched over Cumberland Island and that’s where the debate begins. Island residents, conservation groups and the National Park Service have expressed reservations varying from concerns to downright opposition regarding Spaceport Camden.”
Jack ended: “Bottom line: I believe he would be a great hire for Citrus County. And I doubt he has any plans to pursue a spaceport license in Citrus.”
We’re all ready for the next stage of Citrus County’s future to begin. Should commissioners approve the contract Tuesday, welcome to the helm, Mr. Howard.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.