The Escambia County Administrator Search Committee has drawn up a list of five applicants to submit to the Escambia County Commission later this week. Interim Administrator George Touart is on that list.
“We’ve had a hot potato and we’re just kicking it upstairs,” said committee Chairman Dave Pavlok this afternoon, wrapping up what is assumably the group’s final meeting.
The county commission seated the search committee to vet the field of applicants for the administrator position. More than 40 qualified applicants have been cut to ten, and now five.
Touart—brought on to serve on an interim basis, and the source of much controversy as per ethical concerns stemming from his last go-round as Escambia’s administrator—applied for the position just before the application window closed. He has now survived the search committee process, as well as a blistering debate last week as commissioners argued about the appropriateness of the interim applying for the position.
During today’s search committee meeting, members numerically ranked the top-10 candidates. Each was assigned a number, one through 10, by each of the committee’s five members, with the totals then being calculated.
The top five, as well as their total assessment scores are as follows: Lyndon Bonner, 43; David Fanslau, 36; Kenneth Griffin, 31; Ronald Rabun, 33; George Touart, 41.
The search committee made the decision to submit the top five applicants to the commission without any ranking attached. Human Resources Director Tom Turner, who has been overseeing the administrator search process, explained to the committee that its recommendations would be passed to the commission, but that the commission was not bound by the committee’s findings.
Committee member Joseph Marshall, Commissioner Lumon May’s pick on the committee, also spoke about what he considered to be a lacking pool of applicants. He said he was “somewhat disappointed.”
“I don’t feel real good about what we have,’ Marshall said.
Pavlok said he agreed, and had hoped that the committee would have had at least “ten people who can knock it out of the park.” The chairman also suggested that the county should foster an environment in which assistant administrators be promoted up the chain; he called it “one element that’s missing,” but also noted that the county does have an assistant administrator, Larry Newsom, who didn’t apply for the permanent position.
Joseph Ward, Commission Chairman Gene Valentino’s pick, attributed the pool quality to Escambia’s image.
“I think it’s the county’s reputation, myself,” Ward said.
Turner noted that the county had been through a number of administrators in recent years—“that is deterrent to people in this field”—and that recruiting administrative level employees was difficult throughout Florida. However, the HR director also said that some of the candidates who have applied to Escambia have faired well elsewhere.
“People that applied to us were first-picks in other places,” Turner told the committee.
Tom Knox, seated on the committee by Commissioner Grover Robinson, acknowledged that the pool of applicants may seem lacking, but said that was the pool from which to draw and requested that the committee think of the finalists as the “cream of the crop.”
“Can somebody in there serve the needs of the county?” Knox said. “We’ve got to be optimistic about that.”
The county commission will consider the committee’s list of the top five finalists during its Committee of the Whole meeting, this Thursday at 9 a.m. at the county’s downtown governmental complex.