Board goes in-house for county manager choice


Betty Baker, shown in this Oct. 21, 2012 file photo, is the Alachua County Commission's choice for county manager.

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Published: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 11:57 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 11:57 a.m.

After a nationwide county manager search resulting in negotiations with three consecutive finalists, the Alachua County Commission decided Tuesday to end talks with its No. 3 candidate and offer the job to someone within its own ranks.

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Betty Baker, shown in this Oct. 21, 2012 file photo, is the Alachua County Commission's choice for county manager.

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The commission voted 4-1, with Commissioner Susan Baird in dissent, to offer Deputy County Manager Betty Baker the position and begin negotiations with her.

Baker is in the Deferred Retirement Option Program and is set to conclude her county government career at the end of November 2014.

Acting County Manager Rick Drummond, who took over the role after former leader Randall Reid left in January 2012 for a job with Sarasota County, is also in DROP and is set to retire by the end of July.

"Ms. Baker has not asked for this position, but I think it's in our best interests to hire her to be our county manager," Commissioner Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson said Tuesday. "She is clearly the best option available to us right now."

"I'm humbled by their choice of me," said Baker, who joined the county in January 2002.

Charles Oliver, who goes by Randy, was the commission's third-ranked candidate behind James Bourey of Greenville, S.C., and Stockton Whitten, the deputy county manager in Brevard County. Both Bourey and Whitten withdrew from negotiations earlier this month — the former to pursue a different position and the latter to remain at his current post.

During talks with Bourey, the commission approved an updated offer in response to his counteroffer that raised the base salary from an initial offer of $160,000 to $165,000, along with other changes.

In an email to commissioners this week, Oliver indicated he would accept the county's counteroffer to Bourey, which the commission had previously approved in a narrow 3-2 vote with Commissioners Charles "Chuck" Chestnut IV and Lee Pinkoson in dissent.

Baird, whose top choice was Oliver, moved to accept Oliver's counteroffer, but her motion died because it didn't receive a second.

Pinkoson wanted the board to discuss Oliver's counteroffer thoroughly, saying Oliver told him in a prior conversation that he was willing to make some changes to his proposed contract that would save the county money.

He said the commission's discussion of immediately moving on to Baker was "somewhat disappointing" because it had offered Oliver a contract but was now poised to pull it from the table. Baker is a wonderful asset to the county, Pinkoson said, but he wanted the board to fully consider Oliver's counteroffer first.

Chestnut said he would reject Oliver's counteroffer as he had the one from Bourey.

Oliver may have indicated to Pinkoson that he was willing to make some changes, Chestnut said, but he didn't communicate that to the board at large. Oliver could easily have contacted the commissioners after his discussion with Pinkoson, Chestnut said.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Oliver, but I mean you could've prevented this by a simple email yesterday afternoon," Chestnut said.

Byerly supported the selection of Baker, explaining that he felt the county needs some continuity and stability as it goes through the budget process for the upcoming fiscal year over the next few months. Once the budget has been put to bed, the commission can evaluate how to handle the search for Baker's successor, Byerly said.

Baker said Tuesday the commission could expect to receive a counteroffer from her during negotiations. She is being offered the initial contract provided to James Bourey but will review Drummond's contract as well.

Drummond's contract, which was negotiated for an interim role rather than the permanent one Baker is under consideration for, includes a $160,000 salary and deferred compensation of 5 percent, County Attorney Dave Wagner said.

Hutchinson suggested the county initially offer a $165,000 salary, which he said was worth it when considering Baker's significant experience and the fact that she won't require moving expenses the way an outside candidate would.

Chestnut suggested the commission set its initial offer at $160,000 in the interest of consistency since it offered the same to the first three candidates.

The commission decided on a $160,000 salary offer as a starting point for negotiations with the understanding that Baker is expected to make a counteroffer.

Wagner said the goal is to have a contract ready for consideration by the commission's July 9 meeting, which gives Baker time to discuss the transition with Drummond.

Baker said after the meeting that she looks forward to serving the county in this new role. Establishing a budget and filling several vacancies within the workforce will be two key priorities.

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

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