Citrus County’s administrator search may have hit a roadblock before it even gets revved up.
Commissioner Scott Carnahan’s comment Tuesday that none of the 25 applicants measured up, followed by Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach wondering out loud what Plan B is, certainly gives the impression that commissioners are simply hoping this plays out well despite no real cohesion as to what they’re looking for.
This process also is taking incredibly long. When the county commission agreed in April to hire Slavin Management Consultants as a headhunter, the timeline called for commissioners to interview administrator finalists in July and have the new person on the job by Sept. 5. That clearly didn’t happen.
The board received the applications just last week from Slavin and now the company is whittling out the ones that don’t have the minimal qualifications. The board is scheduled to pick its finalists Sept. 13 and interview two weeks later.
The county has paid Slavin $11,690 so far on a contract worth up to $24,000. I’m not on the county clock but was happy to take a close look at the resumes and offer these observations purely as a Just Wright Citrus community service.
Most, frankly, don’t come close to having what you and I would consider the overall background to take reins of a growing county of 150,000 people. Some are department directors in their counties or cities, but Citrus commissioners are looking for more rounded expertise.
That said, a few caught my eye:
— Steve Howard is administrator of Camden County, Georgia. That’s the county with the cheap gas off I-95 soon as you get into Georgia.
I mention Howard because I spent a lot of time in St. Marys, Camden County’s largest city, visiting with a friend who once lived there. And it is one nice place. Camden County is also fairly rural: 54,768 population, about a third of ours.
— Two Palm Beach County department directors applied. One has been the budget director there since 1995.
— The Deltona city manager applied, and I was surprised to learn Deltona is the largest city in Volusia County. I would have expected Daytona Beach, but sure enough: Deltona has about 100,000 residents, Daytona Beach 68,000.
— One applicant is from some town in Tennessee where his current job is part-time assistant director of a funeral home. While he said it’s something to do while looking for a job, he did list the duties as if it mattered on a resume for high-level administration:
“Receives and places flowers in chapels.”
— Terry Suggs, the Putnam County administrator. I mention him because I thought a good fit for us is a current administrator in a smaller county looking to move up, or an assistant administrator in a larger county looking to do the same. Putnam’s population is roughly half of Citrus County’s.
— And, of course, Tobey Phillips. Along with being deputy administrator in Hernando County, Phillips spent seven years with Citrus County government, including the last four as community services director.
(Howard and Suggs were among three finalists for the administrator job in Seminole County, which also contracted with Slavin as headhunter. However, Seminole commissioners decided none of the three had the necessary qualifications, and they’re restarting the search from square one.)
So, is this an issue where quality applicants are avoiding Citrus County because of a dysfunctional board, led by a tyrant chairman? Or, is it just slim pickings for administrators these days?
I don’t know, but from my view at the back of the room, commissioners have no clear path to success.
Board Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr., who seems to be driving the bus, is optimistic a real winner is in that batch. A look into the faces of his four colleagues reveals skepticism at best.
Because there is no Plan B, and County Administrator Randy Oliver says he’s out the door at the end of November, that puts commissioners in a real jam.
The last thing they want to do is compromise just to get a warm body to fill the chair once Oliver leaves. This decision is critical. The new administrator should be someone who wants to work — and LIVE — here for the next several years.
Commissioners are hoping a solution magically appears at their door. We’ll be on the lookout.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.