Transitions: Hollywood, FL; Rockingham County, NC; Lake Worth, FL and more

Hollywood, Florida (population 140,768): After a tumultuous year, Hollywood has a new leader. Douglas Hewett, the assistant city manager of Fayetteville, N.C., was selected by the City Commission Friday night to be Hollywood’s new city manager. On the to-do list for the new manager: begin the budget process for next fiscal year; develop a strategic plan for economic development, help heal rifts with the city’s police, firefighters and city employees’ unions, help rebuild a struggling downtown and address the city’s problems with homelessness. The city has been without a manager since June, when Cameron Benson quit under pressure after commissioners learned the city was $10.3 million in the hole. Interim City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark was asked to serve as the interim, leading the city through this year’s budget which included a $38 million gap. Other challenges this year: a referendum that slashed pension benefits for employees and a major sewer pipe rupture caused by old infrastructure. Commissioner Beam Furr said the city has come a long way this year, but needs to continue to improve. Hewitt, 40, has no experience as a city manager. During his presentation, Hewett, who grew up in North Carolina and earned both a bachelor’s and master’s from North Carolina State University, said that being from a different state could be an advantage. In North Carolina, he was in charge of environmental services, sanitation, engineering and infrastructure, transit, human resources development, and the human resources department. He also worked a program commissioners hope he can develop in Hollywood that deals with residential renting. Hewett said he has learned as assistant manager that you have to look for ways to say yes. He has been the assistant city manager of Fayetteville, a city of 200,000, since 2007. Read more at The Miami Herald.

Rockingham County, North Carolina (population 93,643): In his first month on the job, Rockingham County’s new manager spent a lot of time at the conference table in his office — not the ample, executive-style desk across the room. Lance Metzler said he’s trying to send two messages: He has no personal agenda and his door is always open to residents with problems or questions involving county government. Metzler took the reins of county government Dec. 5, after the county Board of Commissioners hired him to fill the shoes of veteran manager Tom Robinson, who retired last year after nearly a decade in the role. Metzler, 41, will be paid $132,500 a year and get a car allowance of $600 per month. He came to the job from Montgomery County, where he served as that county’s chief executive for seven years. Montgomery, where Metzler grew up, boasts a population of about 27,500 residents — less than a third that of Rockingham County’s. But Metzler faced some of the same issues there as those he’ll confront at Governmental Center in Wentworth. And he performed admirably during his tenure, said Jackie Morris, chairman of the Montgomery board. Metzler got his start as a manager in Kingstree, S.C., where, at 23 he was the youngest town manager in the state. Later, he served as chief administrator in Virginia for another small town and for Northampton County in the Eastern Shore area. Metzler’s accomplishments in Montgomery County since 2005, Morris said, include helping to form a partnership with neighboring Moore County to build a 3,000-acre business park on the county line, the Heart of North Carolina MegaPark. Rockingham County faces a tough budget year in 2012, with some revenue sources likely stagnant. But the finances appear well-managed, Metzler said, with little pressing need to spend heavily on such projects as new buildings. Deciding what to do and when will be up to the commissioners, he said. Metzler said that he and his fiance, Gwen Roseman, are looking forward to forming a blended family when she moves here from Wilmington, where she works as a flight attendant. They each have two school-age children from previous marriages. Metzler said that in his short time on the job, he has gained confidence that he made a good choice in coming to Rockingham County. He’s hoping county residents feel the same way about him. Read more at the News & Record.

Lake Worth, Florida (population 34,910): After a plethora of media coverage by local news outlets, including several stories featured in the Palm Beach Post, it’s hardly breaking news that transgendered Lake Worth City Manager Susan Stanton was fired from her job last month. The 3-2 vote in favor of her dismissal has brought with it its fair share of controversy in the local press, and the motives behind the firing itself are still murky according to two of the commissioners.  And even a third commissioner, newly elected Andy Amoroso who voted to oust Stanton, is rather tightlipped on the issue despite his supposedly “friendly” dealings with her for the better part of two years. So just why was she let go?  Was it budgetary?  Was it something more sinister, more politically motivated? The answers are anything but easily defined at this point.  But a few things about the firing are known with certainty:  it wasn’t due to performance, had nothing to do with her choice of gender orientation and came as a shock, even to some of the commissioners. Lake Worth City Commissioner Christopher McVoy, one of the two commissioners who voted not to fire Stanton, was more than willing to speak to SFGN despite vacationing in Vermont and painting a house when receiving the call. Perhaps even more telling?  The way the vote and subsequent firing was conducted. City Commissioner Scott Maxwell raised the motion to fire Stanton. Maxwell, according to McVoy has been an outspoken opponent of Stanton since the beginning of her tenure in 2009. Nine months ago Former Mayor Rene Varela, criticized Stanton’s people skills in an evaluation and even she agreed she needed to make more of an effort to reach out to the community. But still:  how important was her demeanor to the city’s financial well-being as a whole? Well, for one, Lake Worth City Commissioner Suzanne Mulvehill, who did not vote to fire Statnton, seems to agree with McVoy’s assessment of her dismissal. In fact when it comes to job performance, according to Mulvehill, Stanton helped the city balance a budget with precision. Despite having to compensate for nearly $10 million in lost revenues from 2008 to present, Stanton was not only up to the job but ensured that, before the newest elections, the city of Lake Worth had a completely balanced budget.  Additionally, just nine months ago Stanton received a favorable evaluation – besides some minor criticisms — from the then city commission. Going further, Mulvehill not only asserts her belief that Stanton was fired for personal reasons, but claims Maxwell, who is also vice mayor, had even further motivation to flex his political muscle. Yet another twist to the still unraveling controversy is Commissioner Andy Amoroso’s comments on the vote.  Openly gay and part of the majority vote to fire Stanton, Amoroso stated that he is not a “traditional” politician and had little to say about the matter. Amoroso is new to the commission only having been elected in November. Curiously enough Stanton, who could not be reached for comment, maintains a Facebook Page pointing her “interests” to Amoroso’s election site adding further credence to their obvious acquaintanceship prior to the election.  Under questioning, though, Amoroso declined to comment about he and Stanton’s prior dealings and reverts methodically back to a seemingly pre-packaged response. Remember, though:  while Amoroso points to the public being the harbinger for the ousting, it was motioned during the meeting that the public be confined simply to saying goodbye to Stanton and thanking her for her service.  How then could it be said with accuracy that there could potentially be a myriad of reasons for Stanton’s firing – the most relevant of which was public opinion? Commissioner Mulvehill feels that the meeting to fire Stanton had potentially been planned in advance with only certain people knowing, which if true, would violate Florida’s Sunshine Laws. Those laws state that fellow commissioners are not allowed to converse about anything with each other related to policy, voting, procedure or anything else relevant to the city. One thing though that does seem certain is that Stanton was not fired because she is transgender as happened with her last job as city manager of Largo, Florida. Tony Plakas, the executive director of Compass, the gay and lesbian center of the Palm Beaches, said this is just the way things happen in Lake Worth. Read more at SFGN.com.

Carbondale, Illinois (population 25,902): Kevin Baity will become Carbondale’s next city manager pending formal approval of a contract by the city council. The city council will host a special meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 10 in Carbondale’s civic center to vote on the contract for Baity, who has been assistant city manager and development services director. The city did not provide contract information in the Wednesday afternoon announcement. Mayor Joel Fritzler said contract details have not been finalized. Former City Manager Allen Gill made more than $120,000 in 2011. Gill officially retired Jan. 1, after three years on the job. Baity beat out former Collinsville City Manager Robert Knabel to replace Gill as the city’s top administrator. Baity has worked for the city of Carbondale since 2006. Baity said in his first few months in office he will focus on Carbondale’s upcoming fiscal year budget, rewriting the zoning code and the city’s five-year capital improvement plans. He said he will not try to put his own stamp on the job. Fritzler said Baity’s administrative experience with the city will allow the new city manager to hit the ground running when he is formally installed. Baity bested more than 60 candidates from a nationwide search that cost the city about $23,000. Baity’s impending hire has at least two city council members at odds with each other. Councilwoman Jane Adams came out in opposition to Baity being awarded the job, while Councilman Lance Jack described Adams’ opposition as “self-absorbed.” Adams said she had no problem with Baity as a person, but she did not think he was the best candidate for the job. She took issue with the wording of the city’s news release about the council reaching “a consensus” on the hire. Adams also criticized Baity’s handling of a special use permit issued to an auto repair shop located at North Oakland Avenue and West Sycamore Street, in a neighborhood zoned residential. Baity said he would not comment on the special use permit, since rescinded. Although Baity didn’t get unanimous support, it’s tough to tell if other council members were opposed. The city council discusses personnel matters, which includes hiring, behind closed doors, and council members are barred from discussing what happens in those closed sessions. If any council members have issues with the hire they will be able to publicly address those issues at the Jan. 10 meeting. For now, a majority expressed support for Baity. Councilman Don Monty said Baity erred on the special use permit, but it should not disqualify Baity from being hired as city manager. Monty said he hoped differences over Baity’s hire would not affect future council business. Fritzler said Adams is entitled to her opinion, and opinions on Baity’s hire are similar to dissents on other candidates. Read more at The Southern.

McKeesport, Pennsylvania (population 19,731): McKeesport has a new city administrator. At its reorganization meeting Monday, council chose Matt Gergely to replace city administrator Dennis Pittman, who had held the top city management position for eight years. Mr. Gergely, 32, grew up in White Oak and recently moved to McKeesport. He was a supervisor with the State Workers’ Insurance Fund. He earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. His salary will be $66,500. McKeesport’s city administrator is similar to a municipal manager. The administrator also leads the city’s finance department. Mr. Pittman, 63, was community development director in McKeesport from 1989 to 2000. From 2000 to 2004, he was executive director of McKeesport Housing Corp. In 2004, former Mayor Jim Brewster hired him as city administrator, and when Councilman Regis McLaughlin became mayor, he kept Mr. Pittman in the job. Mr. Pittman has been known to be an independent thinker who would disagree with his employers when he believed the issue called for his impartiality. Councilman A.J. Tedesco said Mr. Pittman was an asset to the city for many years. Read more at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Hope Mills, North Carolina (population 15,176): The Hope Mills Board of Commissioners voted to fire Town Manager Randy Beeman in a 3-2 vote Wednesday night. Finance Director John Ellis was appointed interim town manager. Board members Mike Mitchell, Tonzie Collins and Jerry Legge voted for Beeman’s dismissal. Pat Edwards and Bob Gorman voted to retain the manager. Under Beeman’s contract, he will be paid for the next 60 days. Mitchell, who was elected in November, made the motion to fire Beeman but first read a statement. Mitchell cited concerns over budgeting, personnel policies and relationships with nonprofit agencies. A closed session was on Wednesday’s meeting agenda, but the board voted to fire Beeman before going behind closed doors. Collins criticized the timing, saying later that Beeman could have kept his job with a reprimand if the board had first discussed the issue behind closed doors. In a statement, Collins apologized to the citizens of Hope Mills for Beeman’s termination. Beeman has been under fire since June 2010, when recorded conversations between him and other town employees were leaked to Eddie Dees, who was mayor. On the recordings, Beeman criticized some town officials. He later apologized for his comments and survived a 3-2 vote to fire him in October 2010. The New Hanover County District Attorney’s Office investigated the recordings, and last month the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office charged former administrative assistant Melissa Smith with a misdemeanor. Town commissioners raised their voices as they gave their reasons for supporting Beeman or wanting to fire him. Legge seconded Mitchell’s motion to fire Beeman. Mayor Jackie Warner, who doesn’t have a vote on the board, said she was handing over her mayoral duties to Mitchell, the mayor pro tem, for a moment as she expressed her displeasure with the action. Warner said the matter of Beeman’s job performance should have been more fully reviewed before any action was taken. Three of the five commissioners and Warner were elected in November and sworn in last month. Beeman sat silently during the discussion and left immediately after the vote. Town Hall was packed for the meeting. Before the vote, a few people took to the podium to express support for Beeman. Ellis, the finance director, was named interim manager after the board emerged from a closed session that lasted more than an hour. After the meeting Ellis, 55, said he is ready to get busy learning the manager’s job. He was hired by a 4-1 vote, with Collins voting no. Ellis’ salary will be the same as Beeman’s, Warner said, about $87,000. Warner said the search for a permanent manager could take two to three months. Read more at The Fayetteville Observer.

Red Bluff, California (population 14,076): City Manager Martin Nichols will be leaving Red Bluff to become the chief administrative officer in Lassen County. Nichols will be leaving as soon as Lassen County finishes performing a background check, Deputy City Clerk Cheryl Smith said. Nichols was not immediately available for comment. He has served as city manager since 2006 and lives in Paradise. Mayor Forrest Flynn said Nichols’ expertise will be missed. The Red Bluff City Council will hold a closed session meeting Saturday to discuss recruiting for a new city manager. Several options are available for the council in filling the position, Flynn said. It can appoint a department head staff or someone from the community to the position, open a recruitment process or hire a consulting firm to do the recruiting. The city does not have any money to hire a consulting firm, and Flynn said he would be in favor of having an open recruitment, Flynn said. Most likely the council will appoint an interim manager while it looks for a permanent person. Having one of the five council members step into the role will not be an option. Read more at the Red Bluff Daily News.

St. Helens, Oregon (population 12,883): After four years helping guide the city of St. Helens, its city administrator will leave his position at the end of this month. Chad Olsen accepted a job as city manager for Carlton, Ore., a small Yamhill County farming town. He begins there Feb. 1 with a salary of $72,000. In St. Helens this year, Olsen was making nearly $106,000 before benefits. Olsen was a finalist to become city manager of Molalla, Ore., earlier this year. Olsen currently lives in McMinnville, about 15 minutes south of Carlton. To become Carlton’s city manager, Olsen beat out a group of 64 applicants, according to McMinnville’s News-Register, who quoted Olsen as calling Carlton is “a real gem, with a classic, small-town atmosphere.” He was hired Dec. 12. Olsen was city manager of Rainier for 11 years before resigning and joining St. Helens in 2007, first in an interim role. The St. Helens City Council plans to discuss the soon-to-be-vacant administrator position at its Jan. 4 work session. They will first appoint someone as interim. Olsen has a long history in city administration, including work in Ohio, Wyoming and North Carolina. He is a member of both the St. Helens Kiwanis Club and the Rotary Club of Columbia County. Read more at the South County Spotlight.

Richmond Hill, Georgia (population 9,281): Shortly after swearing in two new members Tuesday, the new Richmond Hill City Council decided to “relieve” City Manager Mike Melton of his duties. Mayor Harold Fowler says the decision was not based on anything Melton had or had not done, but was because the council felt in order to move in a new direction they needed to get rid of Melton, who’s served in the position for 15 years. Mayor Fowler has worked with Melton for the past two years and feels the council made the right decision to move the City of Richmond Hill forward. Melton has five days to appeal the council’s decision, followed by up to 45 days for a hearing. Mayor Fowler says he and city council have no one in mind at this time to replace Melton. Read more at WTOC.

Atkinson, New Hampshire (population 6,751): William Innes had a busy first day as town administrator. Innes, 63, said he had nonstop meetings yesterday in an effort to get to know his new coworkers and staff. Innes agreed to take the job in December after the town had been without a town administrator since August. His annual salary is $68,000. He was the chairman of the Recreation Committee and secretary of the Technology Committee, but has no other municipal experience. Selectman Fred Childs said the next few weeks will be a learning process for Innes. Right now is an extremely busy time for the town, Childs said, with the town report, budgets and warrant articles. Last night was Innes’ first selectmen’s meeting, but Childs said he won’t be doing much during meetings yet. Innes worked half the day at Town Hall and half at home because he is recovering from a medical issue. But he said it isn’t holding him back. Town Clerk Rose Cavalear said she met Innes yesterday morning when he came in. Atkinson has gone through a number of short-term administrators in the past few years. The last town administrator, Philip Smith, left in August after less than two years on the job. Before Smith was hired in September 2009, the town went seven months without an administrator, after Steven Angelo quit after just five months. Before him was interim administrator Craig Kleman, who worked on the job for about four months. Russell McCallister lasted the longest, working for about three and a half years before quitting in January 2008. But Innes said he plans to stay in the position for five to seven years before retiring. He worked for 39 years as an engineer and manager at various computer companies before being laid off. He worked part-time with children who have learning disabilities at Hampstead Middle School and only left the position to work at Town Hall. Todd Barbera, chairman of the budget and technology committees, said he knows Innes well from his time serving on committees with him. Innes said besides the constant meetings this week, he hopes to learn as much as possible about his new position. Read more at the Eagle-Tribune.

Hatfield, Massachusetts (population 2,718): Town Administrator Jeffrey Ritter is leaving to become municipal chief of the northern Worcester County town of Templeton. Ritter, who held the Hatfield job for two years, will step down on Jan. 17, according to a published report in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Hatfield Selectman Marcus Boyle told the Northampton newspaper that Ritter did “a terrific job” for the short time he managed the Hampshire County town. The departure of Ritter, which coincides with Hatfield’s annual budget-making process, marks a “significant loss” for the town, Boyle said. The Gazette said Ritter cited an easier commute among the reasons for taking the Templeton job, which is much closer to his Harvard home than Hatfield. During Ritter’s tenure, Hatfield kept up with the times by creating a town website, which the outgoing official championed as a more efficient way to reach the town’s 3,000-plus residents. The Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee will hold a joint meeting on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Memorial Town Hall, though it was unclear if the administrator position is among the topics to be discussed at the session. A meeting agenda was not immediately available online. Hired by the Board of Selectmen, the town administrator is responsible for handling Hatfield’s day-to-day affairs, including implementation of policies set by the board. The administrator also “serves as the friendly face of government,” according to the town’s website. Read more at MassLive.com.

Grand Lake, Colorado (population 629): David Hook of Flagstaff, Ariz., who was on the town’s “short list” of potential employees during the hiring process, said Grand Lake Mayor Judy Burke, is scheduled to start work in Grand Lake’s Town Hall on Feb. 27. A New Jersey native, Hook has been living in Flagstaff for about 18 years, most recently employed as a project manager for Northern Arizona University. An engineer, Hook was employed at a civil engineering firm prior to his position at NAU, but the firm closed its office due to the economy, he said. In past positions, Hook was a city engineer at two communities, Greenfield, Ind., and Noblesville, Ind., was the public works director in Douglas, Ariz., and was the town engineer and water utility director in Oro Valley, Ariz. Parents of four grown children and grandparents of two, Hook and wife Cathie are familiar with Grand Lake, having visited the area several times with Cathie’s family. Flagstaff is situated at 7,000 feet in elevation and is a mountain resort community with a nearby ski resort and pine forests. Hook fills the position left by former town manager Shane Hale, who accepted a job in Cortez on Aug. 30. Hale was employed with the town for seven years. Read more at Sky Hi Daily News.

Transparency: When should the identities of applicants for public employment be disclosed?

“The position is not designed to be a political position.” –Jefferson County, Alabama, Commissioner George Bowman

Florida has some of the most extensive “sunshine” laws in the country. Personnel records are open to public inspection unless exempted by law, including applications for employment, grievance records, resumes, salary information, and travel vouchers. If a public agency uses a private recruitment company to conduct an employment search for the agency, records made or received by the private company in connection with the search are public records. Florida courts have rejected claims that constitutional privacy interests operate to shield agency personnel records from disclosure, holding that the state constitution “does not provide a right of privacy in public records” and that a state or federal right of disclosural privacy does not exist. Read more at Government in the Sunshine.

In Michigan, information about a person being considered as a finalist for a high level public position is not of a “personal nature” for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) privacy exemption. Once the list of candidates has been narrowed to those persons to be interviewed, the applicant’s right of privacy is outweighed by the public’s interest in knowing the applicants’ qualifications. Redaction can be used to separate confidential information from non-private information. Read more on the Michigan Attorney General’s site.

North Carolina courts, on the other hand, have held that the public does not have a right of access to know the names of candidates for public positions, even when the employing agency has narrowed to a short list of candidates under consideration. Public bodies must make hiring decisions in an open session, and therefore the public has a right of access to the meeting at which a vote is taken to hire a particular person. But the names of other candidates will forever remain secret. Read more at North Carolina Media Law.

Jefferson County, Alabama (population 658,466): The state Legislature passed a law in 2009 that mandated the county commission hire a county manager by April 1, 2011. In early 2011, the county hired Dallas-based Waters Consulting Group, a national search firm that specializes in recruiting city and county managers, to find qualified candidates. In March, lawmakers extended the deadline to June 1 to give the commission more time to find the best candidates.

On April 25, 2011, Jefferson County officials announced the selection of three finalists, selected from an initial field of 56 applicants, for the county’s first professional manager. County Commission President David Carrington identified two of the candidates. The third candidate asked that his name be withheld until next week because he had not yet notified his commissioners of his selection as a finalist. Each candidate was interviewed May 5-6 by the five commissioners. Hiring one of the finalists requires approval of four commissioners. Read more at al.com.

On May 8, a second finalist withdrew from the selection process. On May 11, 2011, a majority of Jefferson County Commissioners said that the remaining finalist to become the county’s first professional manager didn’t appear to have enough votes to be hired. At least two of the five commissioners said the county needs to ask a national search firm to come up with another slate of candidates. Commissioners, county department heads and other officials interviewed Patrick Thompson for the county manager’s job. Thompson is former county administrator for Hamilton County, Ohio, which contains Cincinnati. The following day, Thompson met with board members of the Birmingham Business Alliance, the sheriff’s office and county lawyers.

Commissioner Sandra Little Brown said the county needs more time to be deliberative, and Commissioner George Bowman said he wants more candidates to consider. Commissioner Jimmie Stephens said he thinks the jury is out on whether Thompson has enough votes, but he would like to give Thompson a chance at winning the job. Carrington said he’ll poll the commission Friday, and if Thompson has the votes for the job he’ll have a public discussion and official vote. If not, Thompson will be informed. State law gives the commission another 120 days to look for another candidate if one did not get a supermajority of commission votes by June 1. Brown said the county may need additional time to hire the right person. Read more at al.com.

On May 13, the last remaining finalist for Jefferson County’s first professional manager removed his name from consideration.

By September 13, 2011, a decision on whether to hire Hoover Mayor Tony Petelos as Jefferson County’s first professional manager was delayed after two commissioners refused to support the nomination. Commissioners Sandra Little Brown and George Bowman both said they didn’t oppose Petelos but questioned how the matter had been handled by Commission President David Carrington.

A resolution to put Petelos’ nomination to a vote of the commission unanimously passed the county’s administrative services committee, but some commissioners said later it was being rushed. No one raised concerns during the committee meeting, in which Petelos was interviewed for nearly an hour by all five commissioners, Carrington said. Bowman, who seconded the Petelos nomination in committee, said he changed his mind “in retrospect.”

The Alabama Legislature has given the commission an Oct. 1 deadline for making an offer to a prospective county manager. Carrington said he believes that could be extended by another 120 days if a selection is not made in the next three weeks. It’s unclear whether Petelos will have a supermajority by then. Brown and Bowman said many concerns remain. Read more at al.com.

Just this morning, the Jefferson County Commission unanimously selected Hoover Mayor Tony Petelos this morning to become Jefferson County’s first professional manager. The vote was taken without discussion or debate. Petelos will begin county manager duties Monday at a salary of $224,000. Read more at al.com.

Luzerne County, Pennsylvania (population 320,918): Manager matters dominated a June 2011 meeting of the Luzerne County home rule transition committee. After a debate, the committee approved an advertisement for county manager candidates, but might later reopen the subject of whether and when to reveal their names. Members differed on whether disclosing all the applicants’ names would be in the interest of transparency for the taxpayers or would scare away the best candidates. The vote was 4-2 with Rick Morelli and Chairman Jim Bobeck opposing to approve the advertisement with language by Susan Shoval, which says, “Position finalists must be willing to allow public disclosure of their resumes in order to move forward with the process.”

Shoval said she believed disclosing all candidates’ names would eliminate a lot of good ones, but that finalists must be willing to have their names released, as is done with college presidents, for example. On the other hand, Morelli felt transparency is the best policy. Bobeck opposed because he didn’t like the idea of disclosing names. Committee members were apprehensive because there were initially only six at Thursday’s meeting.

Before the committee’s discussion, several residents spoke against advertising the names of county manager candidates. Ray Gustave of West Wyoming said while he is an advocate of openness in government, he didn’t think the committee would get top-tier candidates who are willing to jeopardize their jobs in this economic climate. Ed Chesnovitch also opposed publicizing the names, saying it could lead to a lawsuit. Gene Keller of Dallas Township agreed, saying a headhunter told him at least 60 percent of the best candidates will not apply if their names are disclosed. Read more at The Standard Speaker.

Florence County, South Carolina (population 136,885): Florence County’s search for a new administrator, to replace Richard Starks who is retiring at the end of his contract this fall, has been more confusing and secretive than such searches often are because of the presence of Florence County Council Chairman K.G. “Rusty” Smith Jr. as a candidate for the post — the only announced candidate for it to date.

The candidacy of a sitting council member would complicate the issue, no matter who he or she was. South Carolina and local law don’t really address the idea, except by prohibiting it in a simultaneous instance, but it clearly fogs up the ethical windows because the selecting body (county council) includes a potential candidate. The situation is made still more complex by the persona of Smith, a councilman since 1986 and the powerful chairman of that body for almost a decade.

What does the county administrator do? He or she manages Florence County government and its almost $50 million a year budget. An administrator works with the elected officials of the county to help make sure the policy they dictate — theoretically, the will of the people — is executed in an efficient, and fiscally prudent way, by the county’s many departments and divisions.

Who is supposed to hire the administrator? The county council is delegated this responsibility. It’s the only position in county government the council hires solely and directly. That’s fairly standard practice across the state.

What are the job requirements? This would vary from county to county, but typically administrators have public administration degrees and some significant experience with budgets and accounting.

How is the decision being made here? A committee appointed by Smith is in charge of sorting through candidates and making a formal recommendation to council which will then make the final decision. That’s the public version, anyway.

Does the law allow Smith, or any other council member, to be appointed to administrator, or any other county position? As we have reported in recent weeks, there is a difference of opinion in this area. We’re not lawyers, but it seems clear to us it’s illegal to hold both an elected and an appointed position (or two elected positions) at the same time. It’s also clear that it’s unethical for Smith, or anyone else, to be involved in making an appointment decision that could affect him. The problem there, of course, is discerning whether he was involved. Some might say, “Of course he was/is, even if he’s not on the committee,” but that’s going to be pretty hard to prove.

The state’s Freedom of Information Act requires county officials to reveal the identities, and some of the qualifications of, “not less than three” candidates for the post before a final decision is made. We delivered a Freedom of Information Act request to county officials several weeks ago, asking that all candidates be disclosed. That is allowed by the FOI Act, but it is not required.

Unfortunately, county officials have indicated they will provide only “discloseable information,” which shows a continued lack of transparency, and, in our opinion, a lack of understanding with regard to the FOI requirement. The county must disclose at least three candidates. It could disclose more.

We think it should do more to prevent the tainting of a critical decision on Florence County’s path to progress. Read more at SCnow.com.

St. Helena, California (population 5,814): The St. Helena City Council agreed on June 28, 2011, not to release the names of people who have applied for the city manager job, but denied rumors that councilmembers are working behind the scenes to support a local candidate. On the advice of City Attorney John Truxaw, the council turned down a request by attorney Lester Hardy to disclose the names of applicants for the job. Hardy initially asked for all applications for the city manager position. After Finance Director and Interim City Manager Karen Scalabrini objected on the grounds that making the names public could jeopardize the applicants’ current jobs, Hardy limited his request to applicants who are self-employed, retired or unemployed. Truxaw told the council that each application is confidential, regardless of the applicant’s employment status.

Truxaw said releasing any of the names would compromise the council’s right to consider the applications in closed session. Hardy said his request was prompted by rumors that there’s a “behind-the-scenes effort to promote one or more applicants for the job.” Mayor Del Britton insisted that the hiring process is “straightforward” and “fair and open.” He said the council hired a respected search firm, Bob Murray & Associates, to screen applicants and recommend top candidates based on their qualifications. The rumors about secret back-room deals “have no validity in fact whatsoever,” Britton said.

Councilmember Ann Nevero also denied the rumors. She said the search process is taking longer than she’d like, but the council is following it because “it’s what people want and it’s the right thing to do.” Read more at the Napa Valley Register.