Searching for the Searcher and the Campfire Sing-Along

escambia countyIt is unclear exactly what they will do later today, but Escambia County commissioners appear poised to formally request that a wider net be cast for consulting firms for the county administrator search, and most likely, that a search firm be selected by September.

“You’re not gonna get the right candidate if you don’t get the right consultant,” said Commissioner Wilson Robertson in this morning’s agenda review session.

Commissioners were presented today with a handful of search firms that have expressed interest in jumping into Escambia’s prickly search for a permanent administrator. Commissioner Lumon May, with what seemed to be a solid consensus of the board, requested that the consulting job be advertised further—though it’s unclear if a formal Request for Proposal will be done—in an effort to find the most qualified firm.

Commissioners differed, however, on how long it should take to secure a firm. Commissioners May, Grover Robinson and Steven Barry would like to see a firm selected by September 5, with their eyes on sticking to the original target date of Dec. 1 for hiring an administrator. Robertson and Chairman Gene Valentino are pushing for a more relaxed timeline.

“We keep talking like we’re gonna make sure it happens by December 1st, and we’ve said all along the drop-dead date is February,” said Robertson. “I want to do an RFP and I want to do it right.”

The commissioners will decide during their regular meeting today how exactly to proceed with the county administrator search position. Whatever they decide, the process is likely to again involve the commission’s Administrator Search Advisory Committee; it has been suggested that the committee help vet the consulting firms.

Also during this morning agenda session, commissioners received another jail update from county staff. Budget Director Amy Lavoy said staff was currently tending to issues such as transferring employees over to the county, and Interim County Administrator George Touart said the county was still on course to make the Oct. 1 transfer date.

Commissioner May asked Touart if he still thought the transfer could be done for $2.6 million. The commissioner has asked this question several times throughout the summer. Touart assured him again that $2.6 million—money originally slated for 3 percent employ pay increases—would do the job.

“So, we feel good about that?” May reaffirmed.

“Yes, sir,” Touart said. “I do.”

“Amy doesn’t feel good about that,” May said, smiling at Lavoy.

Touart also told the commission this morning that jail-transfer meetings with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office were going well. He disputed media reports that the talks—advertised and open to the public for the first time this week—were breaking down.

“That’s what Chief Haines and I talked about this morning,” Touart said. “We’re not gonna sit around a campfire and sing Kumbayah, but we are going to work through it.”

The administrator later invited Chief Eric Haines to the public lectern to verify that the process was going alright. As the officer made his way to the public microphone, Touart clarified that there had been some areas of “contention.”

“We do not have the answers to the multi-million dollar questions yet,” Haines told the commission.

One point of contention is the sheriff’s internal service fund, which is used to pay out employees vacation and holiday pay. Touart is eyeing it for use in the transfer—“it is vital that we get that internal services fund”—and Sheriff David Morgan has stated that he intends to payout employees leaving his employ.

Another point of contention arises from the fact that the jail’s administrative budget is intertwined with that of the sheriff’s law enforcement budget. Touart said that because the jail constitutes 40 percent of the sheriff’s budget, that Lavoy has pushed for carving out 40 percent of Morgan’s administrative budget and bringing it over to the county.

“Mrs. Lavoy and I do disagree on some of that,” Touart said, explaining that the county would not be taking a straight 40 percent chunk.

Commissioner Robinson noted that staff was lobbying for 40 percent, while the sheriff was stuck on zero. He said something in between should be sought.

“We are negotiating,” Robinson said. “It’s an ongoing process.”

The commission will hold its regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. today, at the county’s downtown complex. Public forum begins at 4:30 p.m.