Escambia County

County administrator gets two more years but not without debate

December 5, 2017

The Escambia County Commission voted last Thursday to give County Administrator Jack Brown two one-year extensions of his contract, which was due to expire Jan. 8, 2018.

Commissioner Steven Barry expressed his frustration with Brown’s effectiveness but not with his character or work ethic.

“I’ve had in essence the same discussion about the same issue, over and over again, for the last two or three years,” he said. “While I believe everything I said about Jack and his character, I want to see more production. I want to see more loops closed.”

Barry did meet with Brown on Thursday afternoon before the commission meeting.

“My feedback to Jack this afternoon was I’m going to do everything that I can to do hold an administrator accountable for not just their own actions, but the product we get done,” he said. “And I would like to see a greater accountability that Jack pushes down the hierarchy.”

The District 5 commissioner said he would reluctantly support a one-year extension but not two.

Commissioner Underhill advocated for two years. He said, “We can definitely get better…I also think there’s almost nothing that I can imagine getting us there better than our current county administrator, and a changeover to another one, within the next couple of years, I think would be get us further away from that.”

At the agenda review earlier, Commissioner Grover Robinson, whose term ends next year, had indicated he would support a one-year extension but had changed his mind and thought two years would be better for the county.

“I think there’s an outward stability issue, going forward,” he said. “Not just what happens, but also your employees and who you’re attracting.”

Commissioner Lumon May reminded the board that he, Robinson and Barry were the three who voted for Brown to become the administrator and faced a State Attorney’s Office investigation because of it. The 3-2 vote might not have shown stability, but it was the right decision at the time.

Barry said, “Is it two years that moves forward without a unanimous vote? Or is it a one-year extension that can move forward with a unanimous vote? That decision is up to y’all.”

Commissioner Jeff Bergosh favored two years. “You give someone a two-year contract, and you’re not always gonna hear what you want to hear,” he said. “But, a one year contract is almost like a vote of no confidence, in my opinion.”

Commissioner May tried to work out a compromise to get a unanimous vote for the two-year extension. The current contract had a severance provision of 25 percent of Brown’s base salary and six months of health insurance.

He suggested, “If those two things were stripped out–25 percent and he’s not using healthcare, could you find a 5-0 vote?”

Brown said, “I’m fine with getting rid of the buyout. If you guys want to search for a new administrator, begin the search. Bring somebody else onboard. I’m not job scared. I want to work with you guys, I want to work with the county; I don’t want to be the center of controversy. I think the two-year provides more stability.

The board voted unanimously for two one-year extensions.

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3 Comments

  • Reply Tom Turner December 7, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Parker has it right. And so does Lewis. Staff reports to the Administrator. Staff does not work for individual commissioners but to the direction that at least 3 of them agree to or the directives of the administrator. Without votes by the board the staff is not in a position to act unless the administrator directs. At times that direction may be lacking for any number of reasons. The other thing the board sometimes forgets is the staff works for the current administrator and that direction may be different than a previous administrator. So blaming staff for following the chain of command and the votes of 3 commissioners five years ago is really is really poor form and just creates hesitancy to act.

  • Reply CJ Lewis December 5, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    My assessment is that the board is the real problem not the Administrator. I watch every board meeting televised on Channel 98. For starters, it is a leaderless mob with no one really in charge the Chairman not selected by voters or even based on ability but instead the job forced upon all commissioners in rotation even if they are not up to the task. The result seems to be knee-jerk county government with each commissioner in sequence pushing their pet projects and boasting shamelessly of their own alleged “leadership.” At times, it is nauseating listening to the commissioners praise themselves and each other for the benefit of the television camera. “Repeatedly,” I hear board members openly talk about how they interfere with county administration giving direct guidance and specific direction to county staff that should instead be only under the direct supervision of the Administrator. Commissioners seem eager to engage in what may be nearly endless one-on-one meetings with staff during which who knows what they tell them to do or say or not do or not say. In this environment, there is no way for the Administrator to be in the loop. None of the board members seem to understand the basics of staff action and coordination that those of us learned in the military. My sense of it is that Administrator Brown knows it would be hopeless to try and stop the Commissioners from going behind his back because they seem to revel in openly talking about their private interactions with staff as if that is a good thing. The interaction seems to go far beyond asking questions and getting information. The Commissioners seem to not understand that under state law they are like the board of directors but the County Administrator is the CEO. That said, I recall a meeting where one Commissioner boasted of how hard it was to have five CEOs all trying to run the county government at the same time. On Thursday, November 30, during the session in which they talked about County Administrator Brown in front of him, Chairman Bergosh gushed effusively praising the Commission. I’ve been back in Escambia County for a decade (2007-2017) and high crime, high poverty, high taxes, ineffective government and mediocre schools seem like nothing to brag about. I can see why Commissioner Robinson seems such a big fan of Santa Rosa County to include this past summer complaining that the Commission does not get enough credit for the housing boom that the Escambia County government is creating in Santa Rosa County, the result of giving tax breaks to companies whose workforce will not live “in” Escambia County. In 2014, Robinson also said aloud that he did not care if the VT MAE workforce lived in Santa Rosa County. Commissioner Robertson said the same about Baldwin County, the one in Alabama. In fact, it would not surprise me if many VT MAE workers do refuse to live in Escambia County. I sometimes wonder if the best course of political action would be for county voters to petition the Florida Legislature to abolish Escambia County so we can become by default the western part of Santa Rosa County.

  • Reply Dale Parker December 5, 2017 at 10:58 am

    This is EXACTLY why no one wants to work with these guys. This is why Escambia will not get a top tier candidate for the job.

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