Past departures of top choice for county manager not seen as unusual
Published: Saturday, May 25, 2013 at 8:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 25, 2013 at 8:18 p.m.
Alachua County's top choice for county manager, James Bourey of Greenville, S.C., has more than 30 years of experience in local government.
He has worked as a senior assistant county administrator in Hillsborough County. He has been the county administrator in Hennepin County in Minnesota, which includes Minneapolis in its jurisdiction. His most recent government job was as city manager of Greenville.
In total, the resume he submitted for consideration by the County Commission details five local government positions he has held over the course of his career.
But among those five positions, one ended with his forced resignation, another in a salary dispute and another with his firing after four months on the job.
Commissioners — who paid an executive search firm, Bob Murray & Associates, $16,500 plus additional expenses to vet the candidates — say such departures are not unusual in the politics-laden realm of local government. However, at least one county commissioner, Charles “Chuck” Chestnut IV, said he didn't know the reason behind Bourey's exit from Hennepin County.
And the candidate himself says that no matter how a government employee leaves, there's always going to be speculation.
In Greenville, Bourey says he was forced to resign in 2010 because the City Council didn't feel comfortable with him anymore — a statement he also made to the Greenville Journal in an April 2010 article.
Some local business leaders attended a council meeting before the board voted to accept his resignation to express their support for Bourey, who had been the city manager for more than six years, according to the story.
“There was a very significant change in the City Council,” he said in a telephone interview with The Sun.
Five of the seven members had changed from when he was hired to when he resigned, he said. Several council members wanted to hire their own person for the job. “I mean, that's not strange, because the manager's at the will of the commission, so if they felt that he was not what they were looking for, then I could see that,” Chestnut said. “I can understand that.”
Bourey spent three years as the county administrator of Hennepin County before he resigned in April 1996, citing compensation concerns. He made $108,780 per year when he resigned, according to an article published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The article cited Bourey's letter of resignation, in which he stated he was earning less than he had when he first came to the county.
The state had a salary limit at the time that restricted government officials' compensation to 95 percent of the governor's salary, according to the Star Tribune. Bourey stated in his letter that the Legislature's failure to increase that cap was the main reason he decided to resign.
The Star Tribune article, however, said Bourey had grown more at odds with some board members and upper-level administrators over what they considered a “controlling, inflexible style.”
According to the article, some people said there was “increasing acrimony and mistrust” between him and some county board members. His tenure was described in the article as a time of “widespread changes and a reining in of county finances as well as criticism that he was too autocratic.”
Bourey told The Sun he left Hennepin County on his own and not because of pressure within the county or the possibility of being fired. “No matter what happens, somebody's going to speculate,” he said.
Several county employees applied for the county administrator position when he was hired, he said, and in a county with several thousand employees, somebody's going to say something.
“You can't control what people gossip on,” he said.
The Star Tribune said Bourey's most recent performance review at the time of his resignation was “largely laudatory” but asked him to delegate authority, especially to the county's associate-level administrators.
Minnesota's public records law largely restricts the release of personnel records without the consent of the employee. Asked if he would give permission for the release of his records to The Sun, Bourey declined, saying he didn't find it necessary to revisit his previous posts.
“I feel very comfortable with all that happened,” he said.
Alachua County Commissioner Susan Baird said Bourey's departures from Greenville and Hennepin County were not concerning given the way local government works. In Alachua County and anywhere else, there will be commissioners who are happy with a county manager's performance and ones who aren't, she said.
Professionals like Bourey with experience in local government know that, she said, and understand they could be forced out as new commissioners are elected. “It's just the nature of that industry, and they know it,” Baird said.
Chestnut said he wasn't aware of Bourey's resignation in Hennepin County but wasn't worried by the mention of possible discord with county board members. Chestnut said he was concerned, though, that compensation had become an issue for Bourey in Minnesota.
“I don't know if that's going to be an issue here in Alachua County or not,” he said.
The commission has approved a base salary of $160,000 and an overall compensation package, including benefits, of about $227,000 to be offered to Bourey during contract negotiations.
Chestnut said he felt $160,000 set the bar a little low, but there could be some wiggle room on the base salary depending on how negotiations proceed.
Bourey made $167,000 plus benefits at the city of Greenville, and his current salary as director of corporate development at Elliott Davis, an accounting and consulting firm in Greenville, is about $191,000.
Chestnut and his fellow commissioners were told during the county manager search that Bourey's short stint with El Dorado County in California ended in May 2003 in an ethical dispute.
Bourey told The Sun he was fired after four months as chief administrative officer with the county after a local elected official asked him to do something unethical.
“El Dorado County was a nightmare,” Bourey said.
An elected official who was not a member of the county board told him to fire several department directors, he said. Bourey said he refused to do so. The official then maneuvered with county board members to get Bourey fired and eventually was successful, he said.
“You could describe him as the political boss of the county,” Bourey said of the official.
Baird said she liked that Bourey had the integrity to refuse the official's unethical request even though he ended up being fired.
“I like that type of a person that wouldn't bow down to that type of demand,” she said.
Throughout his career, Bourey says he has seen that there is a significant link between city and county governments in a community and knows it is a high priority to improve those relationships. With experience as both a county and city manager, he says he can understand each government's concerns. “I think that having been a city manager has helped to develop a level of trust from cities that I'm not just a county guy,” he said. “So I think having been on both sides makes a difference and helps both parties come together.”
Bourey also has had considerable experience promoting economic development through both the public and private sector.
As Greenville's city manager, the redevelopment of the city's downtown area was a key project for Bourey that he said resulted in some large-scale projects of $100 million or more in private investments.
In his current job at an accounting and consulting firm in Greenville, Bourey said part of his work has centered on leading a team that focuses on spurring economic development and helping businesses relocate to South Carolina and the Greenville area in particular.
Ben Haskew, president and CEO of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, said he has worked well with Bourey over the past several years on projects such as establishing a new baseball stadium. Bourey used to be on the Chamber's Board of Governors, and Haskew said he is good with economic development.
With Bourey, Haskew said you always knew where you stood.
“Jim would remove barriers (and) try to get a deal done. But you know, he never left you hanging, so I think that's a good characteristic in that kind of role,” he said.
Haskew said Bourey is a great communicator who had a good working relationship with all facets of the Greenville community.
“We'd hate to lose him from our community, but I understand his need to kind of go back and look at opportunities like Alachua County,” Haskew said.
Bourey, who spent his early childhood in New England but usually moved every few years because of his father's job as a department store manager, said he has enjoyed his time in the private sector but is eager to return to local government.
“I'm really excited about the opportunity to work in Alachua (County),” he said.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.