A nationwide search ended Thursday when the Pinellas County Commission unanimously selected an official from outside Chicago to be the next county administrator.
Now, all Barry Burton has to do is accept the job.
It took the commission about 35 minutes to discuss the three finalists for the job and focus on Burton. Commissioners voted 7-0 to allow chairman Ken Welch to start contract negotiations.
Burton, 54, is the county administrator in Lake County, Ill., and was a finalist for the Pinellas position in 2001. He would bring decades of experience of managing county governments seated in large, urban areas.
"He has a pretty good collaborative skill set," commissioner Karen Seel said.
Five of the seven commissioners ranked Burton as their No. 1 choice.
"I like his enthusiasm for coming here," Commissioner Pat Gerard said. "He really wants to be here."
Burton currently serves 21 county commissioners and oversees a $503 million budget in Lake County, which has 51 cities. From 1996 to 2002, Burton worked as deputy administrator for Franklin County in the Columbus, Ohio area and served as county administrator in Allegany County, Md. From 1988 to June 1996, Burton held various government roles in Hamilton County, Ohio.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Pinellas commissioners interview county administrator candidates
He earned a bachelor's degree in urban administration from the University of Cincinnati and has a master's degree in public administration from Northern Kentucky University.
"My family and I are very excited," Burton said in a text to the Tampa Bay Times. "Can't wait to work out the details and join such a wonderful organization and community."
Pinellas commissioners need a new a administrator to replace longtime leader Mark Woodard, who will retire later this year after 30 years with the county. The position pays $212,000 to $275,000 annually.
The administrator oversees about 2,000 employees and agencies that include emergency management, emergency medical services, regional 911 service, public works, solid waste and utilities.
Since 2014, Woodard has been credited with improving relations with officials in Pinellas' 24 municipalities and the county's business and nonprofit leaders. The Pinellas commission has praised Woodard during performance reviews and for how well he worked with other leaders to deal with Hurricane Irma last year.
The four candidates for Pinellas' top job spent Monday and Tuesday touring the county, interviewing with individual commissioners (in both closed-door and public sessions) and held informal talks with community members, county department heads and local business leaders.
Overall, commissioners praised each of the applicants.
Burton emerged as the top choice out of a field of more than 40 applicants.
Two of the final four candidates were from Georgia: Savannah City Manager Roberto Hernandez and Camden County Administrator Steve Howard. However, Howard withdrew his name for consideration on Wednesday without offering an explanation.
"He just blew me away," commissioner Dave Eggers said. "His answers were true. His answers were candid. The man has gone through a lot of growth."
The lone finalist from Florida was also from Pinellas herself: Clearwater Deputy City Manager Jill Silverboard.
She also received praise from several Pinellas commissioners who said they would like her to join the county in a high-ranking role, such as assistant county administrator.
Welch said he had concerns about Hernandez when the candidate asked the commissioner to have coffee a week before the interview. Welch called that a "red flag."
"That was too aggressive," Welch said.