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Friday August 29th 2014

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Touart’s Return

George Touart is returning to county government. In a move Escambia County Vice Chairman Gene Valentino described as a way to keep the county “moving forward in a positive way,” the county commission named the former county administrator as interim administrator.

“It’s a patch on the tire,” Valentino said. “It should not be construed in any way as some larger term scheme.”

The Escambia County Commission recently fired former county administrator Randy Oliver. Persistent rumors of Touart’s return have been downplayed by commissioners. Valentino, who made the motion for Touart’s return, chalked the rumors up to “a lot of talk in the media.”

“This process is personal and I treat it that way,” he said. “I know what the media doesn’t know.”

Valentino said he had been contacted by several people expressing interest in the job, most recently Touart.  He said the former administrator, who left under an ethical cloud in 2007, would afford the county a “short term, seamless transition.”

Commissioner Kevin White finally seconded the motion.

“I guess I will second it for discussion,” he said, telling the board he also planned on applying for the position . “—seriously, I brought my resume.”

Since Oliver’s firing, Assistant Administrator Larry Newsom has been serving as acting county administrator. Commission Chairman Wilson Robertson has said he wanted to keep him in the top slot.

Valentino tonight said that he had spoken with Newsom.  He said the acting administrator relayed that the interim position would entail “just a little too much.”

“When I communicated with Larry,” said Commissioner Grover Robinson, “he commented he would be more than happy to take the responsibilities until we can get somebody.”

Robinson made an amendment to Valentino’s motion that Newsom serve as interim until a permanent candidate could be found. Commissioner Marie Young seconded.

“Larry, can I ask you a few questions,” Valentino turned to the acting administrator.

The commissioner asked Newsom to clarify his position. The acting administrator said that he had told Robinson he could continue in the position—“the answer was clearly yes”—but that ultimately he would serve “at the pleasure of the board.”

“Is there a preference?” Valentino asked.

“I’m at the pleasure of the board,” Newsom repeated.
Although Commissioner White voiced concerns about making such a decision when the board was about to seat two new members, he eventually warmed to idea—“it is an interesting idea, George”—as did Chairman Robertson.

Prior to voting on bringing Touart back as administrator, Valentino stressed that he wanted to take his time in choosing a permanent administrator.

“Frankly, I don’t have a clue if we can get the candidate we want in six months,” he said. “But I don’t want to be rushed. I want to get it right.”

By a 3-2 vote—with Robinson and Young dissenting—Touart will be coming back at a rate of $130,000. Plus, $500 monthly car allowance and “other benefits commensurate with county employment.”