City's director search narrows
Published: Sunday, February 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 1, 2004 at 12:16 a.m.
Gainesville's Equal Opportunity Department has had its share of scandals: allegations of illegal phone tapping, a police raid, a trial pitting top city officials against a former department employee and the firing of several employees.
Now, the Equal Opportunity Department - responsible for investigating claims of discrimination inside City Hall and throughout Gainesville - is being reorganized in hopes of avoiding the controversies of the past.
In a move approved by voters more than a year ago, the department will be headed by a director who responds only to the City Commission, not to the city manager.
That independence will give it more authority to make sometimes-controversial decisions without influence from other city officials, proponents of the new office say.
"We want to make sure that there is not the perception that the decisions are made with pressure from the supervisor," said City Commissioner Craig Lowe, who served on a committee that recommended the creation of the charter-level position years ago.
Despite the Equal Opportunity Department's rocky past, plenty of people are still interested in heading the office.
The City Commission will begin interviewing seven finalists for the newly created director's spot on Thursday and hope to make its choice on Feb. 9. In total, the search for a new Equal Opportunity director has taken almost a year and cost about $20,000.
The finalists were selected from a pool of about 95 applicants by a search firm hired by the city.
A committee of five Gainesville residents - each one appointed by a city commissioner, before the commission expanded to seven members last year - oversaw the search.
Pegeen Hanrahan, a member of the committee, said it's hard to put a finger on why so many people who have worked at the department have left or been fired "under difficult circumstances."
But choosing the new director is crucial, she said, because that person could work for the city for years to come. And as a charter officer, the new director also will be responsible for hiring and supervising all employees in the department.
"If you get the hiring right, everything else is easy. If you get the hiring wrong, everything else is a nightmare," Hanrahan said.
Finalists for the position are:
"It's a very impressive field of candidates. There's a question of whether we had too many good candidates," Lowe said.
The new director will earn between $60,000 and $75,000.
An eighth candidate - Darrell Elmore, a former equal opportunity director who was fired and then sued the city in federal court - was dropped from the list of finalists because of his settlement with the city.
Elmore, a former program coordinator with the Alachua County Equal Opportunity Office, was hired in 1998 to revive the department after it was closed in 1995.
He was fired by City Manager Wayne Bowers in 2000 for insubordination, including not submitting written memos to Bowers before distribution to city officials and commissioners.
In his settlement with the city, Elmore received $15,000 and agreed not to apply for a job with the city.
Elmore, now a second year law student at the University of Florida, told the commission last month that he should still be a candidate. He says state law doesn't bind the City Commission to follow an agreement signed by the city manager.
The commission voted 5-2 not to include Elmore in the pool of finalists.
Warren Nielsen and Craig Lowe voting to include him; Ed Braddy, Rick Bryant, Tom Bussing, Chuck Chestnut and Tony Domenech voted against it.
Ashley Rowland can be reached at 374-5095 or rowlana@ gvillesun.com.
FYI: Hiring schedule
10 to 11 p.m.: Citizen comment regarding the hiring decision.
Department being reorganized
FYI: Gainesville's Equal Opportunity Department
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