Touart to Stay?

The Escambia County Commission is split on how best to proceed with efforts to fill the county administrator position. The Human Resources director described this morning how the search results were “a little light,” and offered commissioners some options going forward.

“Another year or two with George would suit me fine,” said Commissioner Wilson Robertson.

After relieving Randy Oliver last fall, the commission hired former administrator George Touart as interim county administrator. HR Director Tom Turner explained that one option available to the commission was extending the relationship with Touart.

Commission Chairman Gene Valentino joined Robertson in supporting the Touart-option. He suggested that the commission drop the term ‘interim’ from Touart’s title, increase his pay—to at least $140,000—and hold on to someone that “understands the lay of the land, and the nuances of Escambia County.”

The chairman said that, despite some sentiment in the public and the media—raising concerns about Touart, who stepped down from his Escambia post amidst ethical questions in 2007—he was more concerned with the interim administrator’s job performance. He referred to Touart as the “workhorse that’s turned things around,” and described the relationship between a commissioner and county executive as “private, more internal.”

“It’s intimate, it’s one on one, it’s collaborative and it’s got to be a chemistry that works for all of us,” Valentino said.

Commissioners Steven Barry and Lumon May said they were not in favor of suspending the search, though they were open to upping Touart’s pay. Commissioner Grover Robinson argued that the county’s current batch of 42 candidates should be given another look.

“I could care less if you’ve got 42 or 100, you’re only gonna interview five,” Robinson said. “Do you have five good people in here? Yes.”

In his presentation to the commission, Turner said he did not know why the administrator search had resulted in what he considered to be a small pool of candidates. He said it could be due to either salary range or Escambia-specific issues.

“It’s got to be either compensation or environment,” Turner said.

Commissioner Robertson said that Escambia had a “bad reputation,” and that keeping Touart on board would give the county time to correct that perception. Chairman Valentino said that it would be a bad idea to bring in someone new at a time when the county was dealing with multiple issues. Commissioner Barry argued that the county would always be dealing with multiple issues, while Commissioner Robinson said ending the administrator search would serve to validate concerns about the county.

The commission will take up the subject of the county administrator position during its regular meeting, scheduled for today at 5:30 p.m., at the county’s downtown Pensacola complex. Public forum begins at 4:30 p.m.