Hiccup in Escambia’s Administrator Search

Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson lit the fuse this morning, then got a safe distance away before the fireworks began. It was a move Commissioner Wilson Robertson described as “ridiculous” and “just about ludicrous.” Chairman Gene Valentino deemed it an “eleventh-hour stunt” and “a slap in the face to the process.”

Robinson—not in attendance during this morning’s agenda review session—recommended that the commission re-open the pool for applications for the county administrator position, and suggested utilizing the Florida Association of Counties in the search process.

The county has been searching for a permanent administrator following the firing of former administrator Randy Oliver and the hiring of Interim Administrator George Touart last fall. A search committee is due to deliver the commission a handful of potential candidates for the job next week.

“It just don’t make sense,” Robertson said of Robinson’s recommendation. “I want this thing resolved. I don’t want to put this thing off. I don’t want to start another search.”

None of Robinson’s fellow commissioners had an appetite for reopening the pool, or going through FAC. Commissioner Lumon May said the move “caught me by surprise.” Commissioner Steven Barry noted he hadn’t heard of the option “until about ten minutes ago” and wanted to “keep the process moving forward.”

“If at the end of that process,” Barry said, “if a majority of our board was not happy with the final applicants, then perhaps we could go this route.”

When questioned by commissioners, Human Resources Director Tom Turner conceded that the current pool of applicants—which the committee has already whittled down from 42 to 10—is “somewhat shallow.”

“Florida is having a difficult time, in general, recruiting people to these positions,” Turner said.

Chairman Valentino said he didn’t think FAC “should be meddling in the county administrator search process” and noted that he considered the county’s pool of applicants to be “marginal, at best” prior to Touart applying for the permanent position.

The interim administrator applied for the position just before the pool was closed. Earlier this week, the search committee included Touart in its narrowed field of ten.

The commission requested that a further narrowed list of final candidates—the top seven—be placed before it during next week’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

Commissioner Robertson also said he believed that Escambia County had a lot of issues on its plate, making for an inopportune time to search for a permanent administrator.

“This is the worst time we could be looking for an administrator,” he said. “I’ve been here 20 years and I’ve never seen it this bad when we’re trying to find an administrator.”