County manager choice is a perplexing matter

Published: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:06 p.m.

I am perplexed by the recent actions of the Alachua County Commission in the selection process for the Alachua County manager.

Several of us spent the past few weeks participating in the process by reviewing 60 resumes, emailing county commissioners, making phone calls, attending and speaking at public meetings, where the chair of the commission, on behalf of the board, asked for public input in the process.

And that is exactly what we did — provide the requested input, but to no avail. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”

To say the African-American community is disappointed with the final outcome of the selection process is an understatement and permit me to share with you why. First and foremost, a very qualified African American was in the applicant pool, and subsequently ranked as the second choice. With over 23 years of progressive experience in county government in Florida, in addition to academic preparation, job stability and overall preparedness, it is without question that Stockton Whitten, deputy county manager in Brevard County, was the best fit for Alachua County.

Instead, the Alachua County Commission, in a 3-2 vote, ranked another candidate No. 1. As the banner headline of the May 26 edition of the Gainesville Sun read, “Past exits of top pick for county manager not seen as unusual,” the newspaper story proceeds to share the employment history of the first choice:

1. Forced to resign in 2010 because the Greenville, S.C., City Council “didn’t feel comfortable with him anymore.”

2. Resigned in 1996 in Hennepin County, Minn., citing compensation concerns.

3. Fired after four months as chief administrative officer in El Dorado County, Calif., over ethical issues.

And now I am told that the selected candidate would like to negotiate his salary beyond the $160,000 base and total compensation package of $227,000.

Is this community going to be asked to raise property taxes to pay someone beyond our means?

There appears to be a double standard. If one is African American and attempts to enter upper management:

1. He/she must speak the king’s English better than the king. In other words, the person must be “articulate.”

2. He/she must possess all relevant credentials or exceed the required credentials at the time of application.

3. He/she must present an unblemished record.

4. He/she must, upon request, “walk on water.”

But, on the other hand, non-African American candidates may be investigated by the FBI, fired from their job and take liberties with taxpayers’ dollars.

Why is this issue so important to us? During Randy Reid’s tenure as county manager, one African American was hired in upper management in 12 years. Were there qualified African Americans available for the picking? Yes.

How long must African Americans wait to be treated fairly by the Alachua County Commission and its managers?

Perhaps Pastor Kevin Thorpe of Faith Baptist Church summed it up best when he told the County Commission that looking at the County Commission from the back of the room, it is clearly visible that the dais does not reflect the diversity of Alachua County.

Finally, perhaps the reason for the selection of the county manager candidate is for his commitment to the bus rapid transit system, a system that will provide no benefit to residents in east Gainesville for at least 15 years or beyond. Yet, the county would like to have the support of citizens in east Gainesville for an infrastructure tax to support bus rapid transit.

In summary, to paraphrase Henry Clay, a Kentucky senator who served from 1849 to 1852, “This is quite a game, politics. There are no permanent enemies and no permanent friends, only permanent interests.”

Evelyn Foxx is president of the Alachua County branch NAACP.

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