Will third time be the charm with latest manager candidate?


Charles "Randy" Oliver stands before the Alachua County Commission during his interview process for the job of county manager in the commission room of the County Administration Building.

Doug Finger/The Sun/File
Published: Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 5:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 5:56 p.m.

Charles Oliver, who goes by Randy, is the third candidate to enter into negotiations with Alachua County for the county manager role and may be the first to close the deal.

The Alachua County Commission's first- and second-ranked choices, James Bourey and Stockton Whitten, both withdrew from negotiations earlier this month — Bourey to pursue another position and Whitten to remain at his current post in Brevard County.

If Oliver becomes the new county manager, he will bring with him his experience as a former head of both county and city governments, along with his expertise as a certified public accountant and registered professional engineer. In his last two jobs as a government administrator, however, he was eventually fired from both places.

The dual distinction of being both a CPA and an engineer are considerable strengths for him as a manager, he said, when it comes to budgeting and construction issues.

Oliver was Commissioner Susan Baird's first choice for county manager. For her, his distinction as a CPA and an engineer pushed him to the top of the pool of finalists.

“That to me was almost a no-brainer,” she said.

His engineering background will be useful in assessing road issues, as well as capital improvements and other sectors of government service, Baird said. As a CPA, he will have a solid handle on the budgeting process, she said.

“What I liked most is his technical expertise,” she said.

Developing a balanced budget is key for all levels of government, Oliver said. If it's not in the budget, it's not going to get done, Oliver said.

“The blueprint for anything that government does is the budget,” he said.

Oliver said he believes it is important for local government to have a long-term budget strategy and that he is interested in developing a two-year budget forecast and five-year financial strategic plan for Alachua County.

Planning ahead helps a government improve its operation and streamline its efforts, he said.

As county administrator of Escambia County, he reduced the fiscal year 2012-13 budget by $15.2 million and maintained a constant millage rate, which involved a staff reduction but little to no loss in services, according to his resume.

As city manager of Surprise, Ariz., his resume stated that he “streamlined and improved efficiencies” by reducing staff by 10.6 percent and general fund expenditures by 15 percent.

Over the course of his career, Oliver said he has overseen several major construction projects. He has been involved in building a new city hall, a wastewater treatment plant and many road projects, among others.

If he becomes Alachua County manager, Oliver said he would spend his first few months getting to know commissioners, community members and government staff.

“You need to develop a relationship with the community as well as with the board, and you need to understand how the decision process works,” he said.

Transportation needs and economic development would be two of his top priorities, Oliver said.

“Economic development is a passion of mine,” he said, noting there are many resources available for attracting business to Alachua County thanks to the proximity of the University of Florida. And he wants to keep UF's graduates in town, he said.

Oliver, who has a master's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has worked as a consultant since 2012 on various financial, engineering and management issues. He is CEO of Oliver & Associates in Pensacola. Before that, he worked for Escambia County and Surprise but was eventually fired from both places.

Oliver was fired in a 3-2 vote from Escambia County in October 2012. He said the effort to fire him was led by one commissioner after he wouldn't return a former administrator to the county's payroll, according to The News-Press in Fort Myers.

Oliver received “harsh evaluations” from three Escambia commissioners regarding his job performance, one of whom wrote that the commissioners didn't know about the duties he handled and that he didn't seek input from commissioners with related knowledge and expertise in advance.

Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson told The Sun that Oliver's firing had to do with political issues at the time. One commissioner wanted to hire a certain person and wanted to give that individual more money as requested, and that situation eventually led to Oliver's termination, Robinson said.

“I liked Randy. He is a very professional manager,” Robinson said, citing his CPA and engineering qualifications as especially helpful. “I was sorry to see him go.”

If commissioners want a manager who is professional and stays out of politics, Robinson said, Oliver is their guy.

Before he joined Escambia County, Oliver worked in Surprise from 2008 until his firing in March 2010 on a 4-3 vote. None of the council members who supported his termination gave a reason, according to The Arizona Republic. One council member stated the city was ready for a “new direction.”

At the time, Surprise's mayor questioned whether the timing was related to a letter delivered on the eve of his termination that was signed by union firefighters expressing no confidence in Oliver, according to The Republic.

Oliver had said at the time that he told the fire union the city couldn't meet its requests regarding pay and benefits because of the economy.

Two council members who came on board in January 2010 “helped to change the dynamics of the council,” according to The Arizona Republic. Surprise Councilwoman Sharon Wolcott later stated in a letter to the newspaper that Oliver didn't have “the personal skills to resist bullying from ‘above.' ”

Wolcott stated she was “asked to participate in Machiavellian games” after repeatedly trying to counsel Oliver regarding “engaging in political manipulation.”

Prior to his stint in Surprise, Oliver was city manager of Peoria, Ill., from 2003 to 2008. He resigned for undisclosed reasons, and his severance agreement precluded him or city officials from discussing the matter, according to The Peoria Chronicle.

Oliver, who has been considered in a couple of recent manager searches, said he believes he and the County Commission will be able to reach an agreement on a contract.

“You go through the process, and you go through the process honestly and with integrity, and you don't play one thing against the other,” he said. “That's not fair.”

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

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