I occasionally check in on drunkenbrawlers.com (sometimes an appropriate name, but mostly far more civil) for a peek inside the Walton County rumor mill and some tidbits of local political insight.
Prior to last week’s Board of County Commissioners meeting, rumors said former BCC member Larry Jones would be hired at that meeting as the new county administrator. He would replace Robert Halfhill, who resigned after only a month on the job.
The rumor proved to be just that — a rumor. But it did prompt an interesting discussion around (1) whether Jones would make a good county administrator, and (2) whether filling the position from inside the county would be a good move.
In the end, the BCC may indeed consider local applicants — possibly Jones if he decides to toss his hat into the ring and interim administrator Gerry Demers. Both have served Walton County. Both are entrenched in Walton County.
The BCC will also look outside the county. Commissioners agreed last week to utilize the headhunter function of the Florida Association of Counties. Ostensibly, the FAC will find out what the BCC seeks in a new administrator, then identify and vet candidates who meet those qualities.
No doubt, it will be interesting to see what qualities the BCC will seek in the new administrator. If past history is any indication, quality number one will be “yes man.”
I wrote recently about Walton County’s dysfunctional government and why it should actually work beautifully. It doesn’t because, in short, commissioners will not allow the administrator position to function as designed.
So the question is whether a local — a Walton County political insider — would be allowed to function as the county administrator. Would he be just another BCC member, but without the voting capacity? Or would be quickly find himself exiled to outsider status and battling the sitting BCC in yet another county turf war?
That’s certainly a million dollar question, or at the very least a couple hundred thousand dollar question.
I’ll vote ‘no’ on a Jones hire. (Remember, this completely depends on him seeking the job.) My sole reason for the ‘no’ vote is that Jones is a political insider.
While some may see such a hire as a way to settle the position and put someone in place who will work with the BCC, I see it as more of the same old same old. Jones was part of the BCC history that has been stuck in the 1950′s since, well, the 1950s. If he lands in the job, I will support him until he proves me right.
Demers would find himself in an awkward position, should he seek and secure the job. (Odds are that he will seek it.)
As the deputy — and now interim — county administrator, he’s getting a bit of a pass. As deputy, he’s one position removed from the bulk of the wrangling between the administrator and the meddlesome BCC. One position may not sound like much, but it’s miles of distance. As interim administrator he has been given the latitude to fully function as county administrator (not just a placeholder), but you can bet the BCC won’t rock the boat lest they find themselves down two positions. (Of course, then a certain commissioner would likely have a relative ready to step right in.)
Demers, as county administrator, would see that buffer zone disappear with the sentence, “Welcome to your new job.” And that would be a shame. He has served this county well and served it faithfully. To see him trampled by the BCC would be unfortunate.
Option three is an outsider; someone not from Walton County.
How has that worked out lately? Not well. Not well at all. The question is, where does the blame fall for these failures? I’ll put it at 65 percent on the BCC and 30 percent on the administrator.
(I’m no math wizard, but I do know that only adds up to 95 percent. The other 5 percent is that tiny force of Walton County citizenry that finds fault with every public official. You know who you are.)
A qualified outsider should bring new ideas — GASP! — to Walton County. A qualified outside should bring a sense of cooperation and calm to Walton County government. A qualified outsider should bring order and efficiency. A qualified outsider should be a voice for county employees and for the preservation of taxpayer dollars. (Yes, he or she can be both.)
But a qualified outsider will only stay if — IF — the BCC allows Walton County’s government to function as it should. An insider might stay a little longer in the current climate. But any administrator with any self respect will only put up with the continual usurping of his or her authority for so long before they decide it’s just not worth the daily battles.
The BCC has some soul searching to do. Does it want Walton County government to continue to flounder? Or does it want to make its place in history as the BCC that finally turned the corner and gave our form of government a fighting chance?