By Caitlyn Finnegan
Although the real test will come during the panel interviews taking place Friday morning, the top five candidates for the Alachua County Manager position faced a trial of a different kind during a community meet-and-greet event Thursday night.
The public event took place at the Alachua County Senior Recreation Center from 6:30 to 7 p.m. and drew a crowd of nearly 60 county staff employees, residents and community stakeholders. County Commissioners were also in attendance to observe how the candidates interacted with the community.
“We need someone who really listens to folks, and that’s what I want to see tonight,” said County Commissioner Chuck Chestnut. “The county manager has to listen well to what the public wants and articulate that to the commission to give us good options and policies to consider.”
The five candidates currently being considered for the position include James Bourey, Kenneth Griffin, David Jones, Charles “Randy” Oliver and Stockton Whitten. Former Sarasota City Manager Robert Bartolotta has been named as the alternate if any of the five candidates drops out of the selection process.
James Bourey has about 35 years of experience in local government experience between serving in such positions as the city manager of Greenville, S.C., county administrator in Hennepin County, Minn., and the senior assistant county administrator in Hillsborough County. Bourey is currently working in Greenville as the director of an accounting and consulting firm, Elliot Davis, which focuses on corporate development.
“I understand the technical side of things and the business side of things,” Bourey said. “This community has wonderful assets including the University of Florida, natural resources and a growing business community that would make it a wonderful environment to work in.”
Kenneth Griffin served as the executive director of the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District from 1993-2006, and also has experience as the assistant county administrator in Hillsborough County. Griffin currently works as an engineer in Tampa.
“Both our short-term and long-term goals come down to managing the budget,” Griffin said. “I think we’ll be running lean for several years, so our attention has to be on developing a budget to get the most services out of cost-effective means.”
David Jones is the current county administrator in Polk County, Iowa, a role that includes a focus on renewable energy options and the city of Des Moines, a metropolitan hub currently ranked as Forbes’ number four best place to live for business and careers. Even though he hails from out of the state, Jones said he has visited the Alachua area several times and that each new experience, no matter where the location, includes a learning curve.
“Communities are more alike than they are willing to admit,” Jones said. “There are always the questions of how to best develop the area, how to balance environmental concerns with economic development goals and how to retain the character of an area that everyone loves about it. I think my past experiences have prepared me to handle those sorts of concerns; I’m not scared of Florida.”
Charles “Randy” Oliver is the former county administrator for Escambia County. He also has experience as the city manager of Surprise, Ariz., the city manager of Peoria, Ill., and city manager of Greenville, S.C. Oliver currently serves as the CEO of Oliver & Associates in Pensacola. He is also being considered for the position of county administrator for Pasco County.
“I think there are a tremendous number of assets in this community that need to be bundled together in a different way to promote more employment opportunities,” Oliver said. “My background as an engineer has given me experience working with infrastructure problems, and as the county makes decisions related to finances, my training as a CPA will help when examining resources to best handle balancing the budget.”
Stockton Whitten, the current deputy county manager of Brevard County, spent much of the meeting listening to the concerns of both residents and county employees.
“When I come into this position, I’m going to listen,” Whitten said. “A good leader is a good listener, so I’m going to listen, analyze and make good recommendations from what I’ve heard.”
Whitten said one of the challenges coming with the position is the demand to “do more with less.” He said his position in Brevard has dealt with budget functions for the past 13 years, and he considers budgeting his personal expertise.
Panel interviews for the candidates will take place at 9 a.m. on May 17 and will be open to the public.