Editorial: An ugly process


Published: Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 10:26 p.m.

Stockton Whitten has more than 22 years of government experience, so hopefully he's comfortable with the fact that it can sometimes be an ugly process when elected officials make decisions.

Otherwise, the Alachua County Commission's process of selecting a new county manager would be enough to scare him away from the job.

Commissioners already succeeded in doing so with their first choice for the position, James Bourey. They set him up for failure by making him an initial contract offer well below his current salary, only to have some commissioners act surprised and criticize him for making a higher counter offer.

The community shares the blame for driving Bourey away. Leaders from the black community had every right to promote the candidacy of Whitten, who is black, in the name of both diversity and his qualifications.

But disparaging Bourey crossed the line, especially a claim that he was fired from a previous job over an ethical issue when he was actually fired for refusing to do something that he considered unethical.

Thankfully, Whitten is also a highly qualified candidate. He's currently deputy Brevard County manager and has additional experience there and in Broward County. It's a plus that he's a University of Florida alumnus who got his start in government as an Alachua County intern.

One concern is that he earned a Master of Arts in political science with a certificate in public administration from UF, yet put on his resume that he earned a Master of Public Administration.

While it might be a distinction lost on some people outside the program, Whitten should have known better. But it's not an issue that should disqualify him from consideration for the job.

Commissioners need to stop bickering and work together on what is arguably their most important decision. Unfortunately, their performance at Tuesday's meeting, when they couldn't even agree on the kind of contract offer being made to Whitten, didn't exactly inspire confidence.

If they hire Whitten, it needs to be done with unanimous commission support. A divided vote would undermine him before he even started.

He'll need all their backing to address a number of challenges quickly coming. They include a possible transportation tax referendum that requires wide support to ensure it doesn't go down in flames like a previous initiative.

It's a plus that Whitten brings needed diversity to county government, but his extensive government experience is more of a deciding factor. If he proves to be the right person for the job, the ugly process that preceded his hiring will just be a footnote in local history.

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