County candidates talk of pay raises, diversity
Published: Friday, May 17, 2013 at 6:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 17, 2013 at 6:49 p.m.
After a fast-paced two days of interviews, the Alachua County Commission must pick its favorite of the five finalists for county manager — a group that commissioners say is evenly matched.
The candidates took questions from the board Friday morning after doing personal interviews with each commissioner the previous day. Regarding employee raises and workforce diversity, the candidates' answers didn't differ much.
All five supported giving employees a raise if the county can find the money. County workers haven't received a cost-of-living increase in six years.
James Bourey, who has around 35 years of local government experience, said he has found ways to give employees raises even in difficult budget years, such as by cutting vacant positions. Bourey has served as both a county administrator and a city manager and works in Greenville, S.C., at an accounting and consulting firm.
David Jones, the county administrator in Polk County, Iowa, suggested a way to give workers a boost apart from raises. To better compensate highly valuable employees working entry-level jobs, he said he has created new positions in the past for those workers who aren't moving into management roles for whatever reason.
Jones also highlighted the importance of maintaining a positive work environment to keep up morale.
"To me, life is short," he said. "Work ought to be fun."
Charles Oliver, who goes by Randy, mentioned the possibility of extending salary increases to workers based on their performance ratings. Employees rated well might get an increase of a certain percentage, while great ones would get a higher bump and a worker who, in his supervisors' esteem, "walks on water" at work would get an even higher increase.
The commission also asked how the candidates would approach the need to establish a more diverse workforce within the county, which the candidates all agreed should be a priority.
Jones said an organization should reflect the diversity of its community.
"I've worked and lived in communities that weren't particularly diverse, so the workforce reflected that," he said.
With the University of Florida here, employing a diverse workforce should be "the easy part of the job" for Alachua County as long as the process is fair, he told the board.
Stockton Whitten, deputy county manager of Brevard County and a former Alachua County intern, said the county should expand its applicant pool to increase its diversity but should always recruit the best person for the job.
Whitten also emphasized the need to keep up the morale of those already employed and cited searching for promotion opportunities for workers within the organization and offering additional training as ways to do that.
Bourey said he helped bring in more diverse employees at one place he worked, which had a big impact. "It wasn't done with quotas. It was done with active recruitment," he said.
A few candidates also highlighted the importance of considering long-term costs and distinguishing between essential and nonessential services when developing a budget.
Oliver said the county must keep its financial constraints in mind when managing its budget.
"If you were going to the grocery store before the economic downturn and you had $200 a week, and you now only have $150 a week. Perhaps instead of buying steak, you're buying Hamburger Helper," Oliver said.
Oliver also cautioned the commission against "mission creep," which is when governments take on an additional responsibility without fully thinking through the cost.
Kenneth Griffin, a Tampa-based engineer with experience as an assistant county administrator in Hillsborough County and executive director of the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, emphasized the need to stay focused on essential services even as the county's budget situation gradually improves. "This is the new age of great fiscal austerity," he said.
Griffin listed encouraging economic growth across all sectors of the county and reversing the decline in water quality among the top challenges the government needs to address.
After the interviews concluded, the commission decided it would try to nail down a salary range for the position at Tuesday's meeting before discussing the candidates. The board plans to rank its top three candidates and then enter negotiations with its No. 1 choice.
Residents are invited to email or call the county with their views on the candidates, and there will also be time for public comment at the meeting, which starts at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the County Administration Building in downtown Gainesville.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.