Having narrowed their choices to two — Randall H. Reid, manager of Alachua County, and James Baker, manager of York County, S.C. — the county commissioners Tuesday afternoon said they were swayed by Reid’s local government experience in Florida in voting unanimously to begin contract negotiations with him.
County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh said after the meeting that he would expect to have a contract ready for the commission to consider no later than Dec. 8. However, he said he might be able to conclude negotiations with Reid as early as the middle of next week.
In the meantime, the commission instructed DeMarsh and Interim County Administrator Terry Lewis to let Baker know he was their second choice, in the event that they could not reach contract terms with Reid.
The other two finalists were Edward Mitchell, administrator of the city of West Palm Beach, and Fred Russell, administrator of the consolidated city/county government of Augusta, Ga.
An Ohio native, Reid has been in his current position since 1999. He told the County Commission Tuesday that he had applied 14 years ago for the job they gave to Jim Ley, who resigned in late May in the wake of the procurement-department scandal.
After meeting individually with the finalists Monday, County Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson said she began calling people she knew in Gainesville. The president of the chamber of commerce there had nothing but good things to report about Reid, she said.
Whenever the chamber needed Alachua County officials to act fast on an economic development project, Patterson said, the chamber president told her his organization always got cooperation from Reid.
Patterson said she also had heard positive remarks about Baker from the chambers of commerce in York County, S.C.
Commissioner Christine Robinson said she, too, had spoken with people in Gainesville and South Carolina. During Reid’s appearance before the board Tuesday afternoon, Robinson did question him about an article he had written that had appeared in Florida League of Cities and National Association of Counties publications.
“I have had folks from big businesses and self-proprietors a bit concerned about this,” Robinson said.
She read a few sentences from the article, which referenced businesses taking on initiatives only because of the commercial aspects of those endeavors.
Reid told her he had received a request to write the article to boost the morale of public employees.
“The article starts out by saying that all sectors of the community are important, including the public sector … I stand by that,” he said.
Because of the globalization of business, Reid said, businesses are not as connected to their communities as they were years ago.
During the discussion before the board’s vote Tuesday, Robinson said that in researching the finalists, she had talked with one person acquainted with Reid whose comment regarding the article was that Reid “happens to be very cerebral.”
Still, Robinson said, there was a nervousness in the local business community as a result of the dissemination of that article after Reid became a finalist for county administrator.
Commissioner Joe Barbetta said he had talked with a former long-time Sarasota County employee who works with Reid. As far as he could ascertain, Barbetta said Alachua County employees shared one view: “We hate to lose him.”
“Reid’s incredible experience in Florida and outstanding county (government) experience in the state,” Barbetta said, gave him an edge over the other finalists.
Commissioner Jon Thaxton said he was impressed with the credentials of both Reid and Baker. However, he, too, said he felt Reid’s experience with local government in Florida was a strong factor in Reid’s favor.
During approximately three-and-a-half hours of discussions Tuesday with the four finalists to replace Ley, the commissioners asked questions, ranging from how the candidates would improve the morale of Sarasota County employees to how they would improve the negative business climate of the county, as attested to in a recent survey.
Asked about the morale issue, Reid replied that Lewis already had begun the process of “both rectification and healing.”
“You need to be aware,” Reid added, “that I am someone who believes in the value of public service. I know I have to motivate. I have to give people confidence they can do their jobs.”