Alachua County jilted again; 2nd choice turns down manager's job


Published: Monday, June 17, 2013 at 4:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 17, 2013 at 4:36 p.m.

Shortly after the top candidate for the county manager job in Alachua County withdrew from negotiations, No. 2 pick Stockton Whitten has turned down the offer as well.

Whitten, who is the deputy county manager in Brevard County, emailed County Commissioner Mike Byerly on Monday announcing his decision to remain with his current employer.

The commission voted last week to make Whitten an offer after its first choice, James Bourey of Greenville, S.C., withdrew to pursue another position.

Whitten, who is a University of Florida alumnus and former Alachua County intern, wrote that he had reviewed the county's contract offer and spent the past week consulting with his family.

"I have always felt that Alachua County would be a great place to live, work and raise a family and I am still of that opinion today. This was bolstered by the many wonderful people I had a chance to meet during the interview process," he wrote. "However, in reflecting on the totality of the circumstances, I believe at this juncture, it is in the best interest for me and my family to remain in Brevard County."

He has worked with Brevard County since 1994. He lives in Rockledge with his wife, Kathy, and three children, aged 9, 13 and 17.

The commission already had planned to discuss the county manager negotiations at a 10 a.m. meeting today.

Commissioner Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson told The Sun he plans to suggest that the board vote in favor of submitting a contract offer to Charles Oliver, CEO of Oliver & Associates in Pensacola. The commission ranked Oliver as its No. 3 choice behind Bourey and Whitten.

Hutchinson said commissioners have a couple of other options on the table. They could reconsider their remaining candidates, including Oliver, or they could reopen the county manager search and accept new applications.

One benefit of the latter approach would be that new candidates who didn't apply the first time around might submit their names now.

This kind of situation — with negotiations with two consecutive candidates for a government position falling through — isn't uncommon, Hutchinson said. He has heard of other governments making offers to multiple candidates before finally reaching an agreement for a job like this.

Acting County Manager Rick Drummond stepped into the role in January 2012 when longtime County Manager Randall Reid left the county to take the same job with Sarasota County.

After Bourey dropped out of negotiations on June 6, commissioners last week debated whether the process was handled appropriately. Byerly said he felt Bourey was treated badly by both the commission and the community and was "hounded" out of the county.

Bourey emailed the commission explaining his decision to pursue another position two days after Commissioners Charles "Chuck" Chestnut IV and Lee Pinkoson voted to end negotiations with Bourey. That motion failed.

Pinkoson had said he felt Bourey's counteroffer reflected negatively on his leadership style since he seemed to want different treatment when it came to benefits than typical employees received.

Whitten received strong support from some members of the community during the county manager search even after the commission ranked Bourey as its top pick and began negotiating with him. A handful of local residents urged commissioners to end negotiations with Bourey and mentioned concerns about his counteroffer.

Hutchinson said at last week's meeting he didn't think the county negotiated with Bourey in good faith and that both Bourey and the commission made mistakes.

He also said some residents questioned Bourey's qualifications after he was ranked No. 1 and that several pressured the board to go with a different candidate by impugning his qualifications.

But Hutchinson told The Sun on Monday that he doesn't think Whitten's decision to remain in Brevard County was a result of poor negotiating on the county's part. He said he doesn't know if Whitten received a counteroffer from his employer to remain at his current job or if he and his family simply realized the time wasn't right for them to move away from the area that has been Whitten's home for almost two decades.

The way Hutchinson sees it, the county is 1-1 in terms of whether the commission had handled negotiations well with its top two county manager candidates. Bourey was handled poorly, he said, but negotiations with Whitten seemed to have gone well up until this point.

"If we're going to keep going down the list (of finalists), then what we need to do is think of how we can make things more likely to succeed," he said. That might mean improving the county's initial offer or making other adjustments.

Hutchinson said he was surprised by Whitten's decision, especially since he had spent time going over the details of the initial contract with Whitten on Saturday night. The county contacted Whitten on Monday to verify that his email was legitimate.

"I was as surprised as anybody," he said. "That's why when I first heard about it I wanted to make sure it wasn't a scam because that was a pretty big about-face."

Whitten did not return The Sun's request for comment by late Monday.

In an interview with The Sun on Friday, however, he said he was optimistic he and the County Commission would agree on a good contract that would bring him back to Gainesville, which he referred to as his adopted hometown.

"I'm confident that there's always common ground," he said at the time.

During the same meeting last week at which the County Commission voted unanimously to begin negotiations with Whitten, Commissioner Susan Baird brought up an inconsistency on his resume for discussion.

His resume listed a Master of Public Administration degree, or MPA, from UF, when he actually has a Master of Arts with a certificate in public administration. A resident pointed out this distinction because UF doesn't offer a MPA.

Whitten wrote in an earlier email to the county that a letter in The Sun had "mischaracterized" the situation, explaining that he completed in-depth coursework in public administration and has always listed his degree as an MPA.

Other commissioners did not express concern about the discrepancy, and Human Resources Manager Kim Baldry said a couple of UF staff members indicated it is often a shortcut for graduates like Whitten to say they have an MPA.

Whitten told The Sun last week he had no intention of deceiving or misleading anyone.

"I think that UF cleared that issue up," he said. "People who want to find something and want to hold and carry a certain position will always find things to challenge you on or complain about on or to focus in on."

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

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