By Chris Eversole
The Alachua County Commission is hiring a new county manager, and it has a steep list of job requirements.
The new manager needs to function as a CEO, be skilled at shuttle diplomacy, serve as a chief spokesperson and be able to forge partnerships with other local governments, commissioners say.
By the way, the manager can be fired at any board meeting.
It’s been 13 years since the county commission searched for a new manager. In 1999, the commission hired Randall Reid, who stayed until earlier this year, when the Sarasota County Commission named him as county administrator.
Rick Drummond is serving as interim county manager until he retires midyear.
County Commissioner Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson was on the commission that hired Reid. “I think we need a different style of manager now than we needed then,” says Hutchinson, who was reelected to the county commission in November.
“Randy brought a focus on sustainability, which reflected the values of the commission then,” Hutchinson says. “Today, we need someone who focuses on efficiency, finances and generating revenue.”
The commission hires only two people—the county manager and the county attorney, and commission-manager form of government places great power in the manager.
The manager hires the key positions of department heads and deputy county managers, and he or she is in charge of all of county government’s operations.
The manager directs a staff of more than 800 in diverse areas of work, including road maintenance, social services, building and zoning regulation and fire and rescue service.
The new manager will hire an unusual number of department heads, since many of the current department heads plan to retire soon, Hutchinson notes.
Commissioners are forbidden from giving orders to staff. “We have to trust the manager, and basically we can do nothing about how he or she handles employees,” Hutchinson says.
The commission does have a big say in the workload of employees, particularly when it comes to researching policy options. At each meeting, the commission passes motions directing staff to study a variety of issues.
One week, the commission may request a report on road maintenance, and the next week, it may ask for a study on the Community Agency Action Partnership Program, which provides funding to nonprofit organizations.
The staff sometimes isn’t sure what the commission wants, says Hutchinson, who served in several staff positions for the City of Gainesville early in his career. “The staff spends a lot of time parsing the words of the commissioners and psychoanalyzing what they expect,” Hutchinson says. “A good manager and a good commission chair can help to avoid ambiguity in motions.”
Keeping Peace With Other Officials
Within county government, the manager interacts with those who are know as the “constitutional officers”—the sheriff, clerk of courts, property appraiser, tax collector and supervisor of elections.
Money talk between the manager and the constitutional officers can be divisive, since the manager recommends how much the commission allocates to each constitutional officer. The manager also serves as a liaison between county government and city governments.
“It’s very important that the manager have a good relationship with the constitutional officers and the outlying communities,” Commissioner Lee Pinkoson says. “They don’t have to agree on everything, but they need to work together with the goal of serving the public.”
The new manager needs to focus on getting the most from taxpayers’ dollars, Pinkoson says. “I’m not averse to him or her taking a look at how we do things with a fresh set of eyes and suggesting how we can achieve the same outcomes in a different manner.”
The manager has the unenviable task of working for five bosses, Hutchinson notes. “The manager has to engage in shuttle diplomacy in shaping a direction based on all the commissioners’ input.”
Although a county manager is subject to firing from week to week, he or she is most vulnerable when the commission makeup changes, Pinkoson says. “The manager can be thrown in the pit every two years,” Pinkoson says. “I wouldn’t want the job.”
Finding the Right Fit
The commission interviewed three recruiting firms to conduct the search for the new manager, and it selected Bob Murray and Associates from Tallahassee.
Rene Narloch will conduct the search for the Murray firm. In addition to advertising in professional journals, she will contact outstanding managers she knows based on her 20 years of experience as a recruiter, she says. “I’ll target more than 100 people and contact many people through calls and emails.”
Narloch assured the commission that she the search will be wide open. “I don’t have people in my back pocket and just pull them out,” she says. “Every recruitment is brand new and has to be looked at with a fresh eye.”
The commission will be able to see how candidates operate day-to-day by watching videos of their interactions with commissioners where they’re working now, Hutchinson says. “We can watch their bedside manner.”
The commission is likely to hold a workshop at which the public can ask questions of the candidates, Hutchinson says.
When it interviewed the recruiting firms, representatives of all three companies touted the attractiveness of the Alachua County position, noting that Reid’s long tenure speaks well for the quality of county government and that the area is an attractive place to live.
“This is a premier position in the State of Florida and nationwide,” Narloch said.