It's on to No. 2 for county manager, amid board dispute


Stockton Whitten, on the right in this May 16, 2013 file photo, will be offered the job of Alachua County manager.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 2:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 2:41 p.m.

After the top choice for county manager withdrew from negotiations to pursue another position, the Alachua County Commission decided Tuesday to begin talks with its No. 2 pick, Stockton Whitten.

But before moving on, two commissioners criticized the way the board negotiated with their first choice, James Bourey of Greenville, S.C.

"I think the top-ranked candidate was badly treated by the commission and the community," Commissioner Mike Byerly said. "We hounded the person out of the county, and I'm not real proud of the way that happened."

Referring to the board's 3-2 approval of the county's counteroffer to Bourey last week, Byerly said a split vote sends a bad signal to a candidate and sabotages the process.

Commissioners Charles "Chuck" Chestnut IV and Lee Pinkoson voted against the contract offer, and Pinkoson supported Chestnut's failed motion to end negotiations with Bourey during the same meeting. Two days later, Bourey notified the county of his decision to withdraw because he preferred another position for which he was being considered.

Commissioner Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson echoed Byerly's complaints.

"I don't think we negotiated with Mr. Bourey in good faith," he said. "I think he made some mistakes. We clearly made some mistakes."

A handful of residents spoke at last week's meeting in favor of ending negotiations with Bourey and moving on to Whitten, citing concerns about Bourey's counteroffer. A few had attended a meeting on the county manager search and urged commissioners to list Whitten as their No. 1 choice.

Byerly also pointed out that Bourey's counteroffer was interpreted in terms of his character rather than treated in the spirit of good-faith negotiations.

Whoever comes to our community now as county manager, he said, is coming here under a cloud that was created by the commission and the community.

Hutchinson said many residents questioned Bourey's qualifications after he was ranked as the board's top choice. Some people urged the commission not to pick him by impugning his qualifications, he said.

Bourey has about 35 years of local government experience and has worked as both a city manager and a county administrator.

Hutchinson said commissioners and residents collectively need to be careful about that because all the top-ranked candidates were excellent choices and deserve respect.

Pinkoson said at last week's meeting that Bourey's counteroffer reflected poorly on his leadership style because he wanted to be treated differently than the typical employee in terms of benefits. He said Tuesday that Bourey was his top pick but he was uncomfortable with what his contract represented.

"I wasn't game-playing to get No. 2 or No. 3," he said, referring to second-choice candidate Whitten and third choice Charles Oliver, CEO of Oliver & Associates in Pensacola. "If I hurt the man's feelings, I apologize."

Chestnut called Bourey's counteroffer "outrageous," citing a deferred compensation total of $23,000 as an example.

"I did not try to sabotage anything," Chestnut said. "But when we're going to give away the kitchen sink, I have some issues with that."

Byerly asked his fellow commissioners whether they should make it clear the county would make Whitten a take-it-or-leave-it offer since he felt that was the effect of what happened during negotiations with Bourey, but Chestnut said that would be unfair since they gave Bourey the opportunity to offer his suggestions.

If Whitten makes a counteroffer that differs from the county's, the commission can move on if it wishes, Chestnut said.

Hutchinson said he told Whitten he needed to talk to each of the commissioners because he has to strike an agreement that meets five individuals' ideas of what is acceptable in a counteroffer.

The commission unanimously approved a motion to begin negotiations with Whitten and to offer him the initial contract Bourey received, which includes a $160,000 base salary and a total compensation package of about $227,000.

Whitten is the deputy county manager in Brevard County and has worked there since 1994 in various capacities. He is also a University of Florida alumnus and former Alachua County intern.

Early in Tuesday's county manager discussion, Commissioner Susan Baird brought up a discrepancy in Whitten's resume. His resume stated he has a Master of Public Administration degree, or MPA, from UF, but a citizen soon pointed out the university doesn't offer that degree. He actually received a Master of Arts with a certificate in public administration.

Whitten wrote in an email this week that a citizen letter in The Sun "mischaracterized" the circumstances.

"A prescribed course of graduate study is certainly more than taking a few classes and being handed a certificate of completion," he wrote. "Throughout my career, I have listed the degree on my resume as a Masters in Public Administration."

Chestnut pointed out the commission was aware of this issue when it ranked the candidates and said that was the time to discuss it. If Whitten didn't have a master's degree at all, that would be a problem, he said.

Deputy County Manager Betty Baker and Human Resources Manager Kim Baldry told the commission they spoke with UF staff and asked specifically if Whitten's resume misrepresented his credentials.

"They both indicated that it's often a shortcut to say ‘I have an MPA,' " Baldry said of the UF representatives with whom they spoke.

Byerly said he wasn't concerned because he doesn't believe Whitten intended to deceive anyone and the courses of study are functionally equivalent.

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

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