BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners struggled Tuesday with how to conduct the search for a new county administrator.
Initially, the commission seemed opposed to leaning on an outside firm to assist with the search.
But in the end, the commission voted 4-1 to hire Colin Baenziger & Associates, based in Wellington, to do the full search, from forming the parameters of what commissioners want to see in their next administrator to whittling down the pool of applicants to a list of finalists.
As commissioners tried to decide what to do Tuesday, their biggest challenge was trying to figure out how to settle on specific parameters for candidates, given that each commissioner had his own list of priorities.
Some commissioners were willing to begin by considering only internal candidates, while others wanted to cast a wider net immediately.
Several commissioners also wanted there to be community involvement in the selection process.
The commissioners previously had agreed to gather qualifications on search firms. Administrative services director Cheryl Marsden detailed for commissioners the specifics provided by the five firms that responded. She recommended Colin Baenziger & Associates, based on staff rankings and the firm's extensive experience in Florida.
Using a search firm didn't interest Commissioner Jeff Stabins, who said the county's past experience using outside firms has not worked out well.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes suggested that, before the county spent $21,500 to hire a firm, the human resources department could conduct its own search for internal candidates and candidates from Hernando County.
Commission Chairman Jim Adkins said he would support a local search, but also wanted to see a committee of community members, possibly one chosen by each commissioner, involved in the process.
Commissioner Dave Russell suggested looking statewide, but initially said he thought the county could conduct its own search.
After hearing the recommendations of others, Commissioner John Druzbick predicted he would lose the vote 4-1, but then made a strong pitch to hire a search firm.
"I have a real concern,'' Druzbick said. By doing an in-house search, the county would be repeating the method used in the past, he said, and "we don't have a good record.''
Not only did the county get administrators who weren't a good fit or didn't stay long, but the pool of applicants tended to be small.
"You're looking for the top person to run this county,'' he said.
While $21,500 wasn't a small sum, Druzbick said, "making the wrong choice can cost us a heck of a lot more money.''
Marsden also pushed for the hiring of a search firm. She told the commission that the calls she made to check references included glowing reports about how much Colin Baenziger & Associates had helped previous clients.
Plus, she argued, the firm offers a guarantee. If the person selected as administrator leaves within a year for any reason other than an act of God, the firm will do the next search for free. If the person leaves within two years, the firm will do the search for only its cost.
She also noted that the company would be happy to include community members in the process. And assistant county attorney Jon Jouben said commissioners could state their preference for local candidates.
That convinced Dukes.
"I can live with that,'' he said.
Druzbick said he wanted local people to apply, but didn't want to exclude others so the county can get the best person for the job.
Russell said the guarantee "certainly has me rethinking my position.''
Only Stabins would not go along, and he ended up being the lone vote against hiring the search firm.
County Attorney Garth Coller, who is familiar with the company chosen, said officials will likely begin the process by talking individually to county commissioners about what they want to see in the next administrator and their preferences for handling the process.
The administrator will replace David Hamilton, whom commissioners fired earlier this fall, saying they had lost faith in him.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.