Residents get chance to meet county candidates


Published: Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 9:52 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 9:52 p.m.

The Alachua County Commission will interview its top five county manager candidates Friday, but county employees and residents got their chance to question the competitors Thursday evening.

The county held a meet-and-greet at the Senior Recreation Center in Gainesville from 6 to 7:30 p.m., where residents could talk to the finalists. Residents were encouraged to email or call the county to provide their feedback before the commission chooses its top candidate next Tuesday.

Shortly after the event began, about 30 people were milling around the room. At its busiest, the meet-and-greet drew about 60 people. Many of them were county employees.

Some people sampled the snacks and punch at the back of the room. Others chatted with the five potential hires, while a few hung back until there was a break in the conversation so they could shake hands and introduce themselves.

Halfway through the meet-and-greet, Commissioner Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson paused the "speed-dating" so each candidate could say a few words to the crowd as a whole. Most of the candidates didn't talk about specific issues, highlighting instead their love of the Alachua County area and appreciation for everyone who came that night.

"Alachua County is a special place," said James Bourey, who works at an accounting and consulting firm based in Greenville, S.C., and has 35 years of local government experience, including as a county administrator and city manager. "It'd be a great community to work in."

Stockton Whitten, Brevard County's deputy county manager, told the group that this would truly be a homecoming for him since he is a University of Florida graduate. His internship with Alachua County in 1990 sparked his passion for local government, he said, which he has carried with him through his career over the past two decades.

David Jones, the county administrator in Polk County, Iowa, also spoke highly of Gainesville, which he has visited several times over the years.

Charles Oliver, who goes by Randy and has served as both a county administrator and city manager but currently works as CEO of Oliver & Associates in Pensacola, said that because he is a certified public accountant, he understands what it takes to put a budget together.

Hutchinson was on the commission when the county hired Randall Reid, its longtime county manager who left to take the same job with Sarasota County in January of last year. Acting County Manager Rick Drummond took over once Reid departed.

Hutchinson recalled that there were a couple of strong finalists, including Reid, during that search, as well as a couple who weren't as strong. This time around, the top candidates are more evenly matched, he said.

"Today, I'd roll the dice, pick one of them and be happy with it," he said.

Jeannette Hinsdale, a Gainesville resident, said she came to see what kind of people were hoping to fill Reid's shoes. "Randy Reid really set the bar high," she said.

Hinsdale was intrigued by some promising social and environmental projects done in Greenville, S.C., but said she couldn't get Bourey — Greenville's former city manager — to explain how involved he was in those efforts.

She also noted that a couple of the candidates quit talking to her after someone with a badge — usually a higher-up county employee — came by to talk, which she said was disappointing.

Robert Puzio, 62, of Gainesville, is a former Alachua County intern who came to the meet-and-greet to get a feel for how open-minded and innovative each candidate is.

For Puzio, his top choice is a toss-up between Bourey and Kenneth Griffin, a Tampa-based private-sector engineer with experience as an assistant county administrator in Hillsborough County.

"I just liked their answers," he said. "They weren't trying to be politicians and dance around the issues."

Puzio said Whitten was more tight-lipped. "All he would do is answer my questions with a question," he said.

Griffin said the County Commission has a good vision for the region, and he looks forward to helping tackle some of its primary challenges with the budget and other issues if selected. "The big ones are worth working on," he said.

Karin Smith, a county employee, said earlier in the evening, when about 30 people had arrived, that she was disappointed more people didn't come out.

"It's a shame," she said. "But if you don't get interested in or even participate (in this), then you cannot complain."

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com.

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