NEW PORT RICHEY — A unanimous county commission made its short list even shorter Tuesday, picking Dan Biles of Alabama as the top choice to be the next Pasco County administrator.
Biles, the deputy Jefferson County manager for infrastructure in Birmingham, Ala., emerged as the clear favorite among commissioners after a full day of interviews. Biles was the top-ranked selection by all five commissioners, leading the board to cancel a second round of interviews scheduled for Wednesday morning.
"I'm excited,'' Biles told the Tampa Bay Times. "I think (Pasco) county has a lot of opportunity and a lot of things going for it.''
Biles, 48, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, holds bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering from Texas A&M University. He has worked both in the private and public sectors, which commissioners noted during their discussions.
"Military, government and private sector — all three. That stood out for me, too,'' said Commission Chairman Mike Moore.
Biles has served as public works director in Corpus Christi, Texas, worked in private engineering firms, and commanded the 248th Civil Engineering Flight Air National Guard in Camp Murray, Wash.
The search for an administrator included a bus tour of the county and an invitation-only meet-and-greet session with community leaders Monday evening.
The offer to Biles came after commissioners spent Tuesday in group and individual interviews with their five finalists.
Commissioners ranked Theodore L. Voorhees, a consultant and former city manager for the city of Fayetteville, N.C., as their second candidate. Others who interviewed were David M. Ross, county administrator in Rock Island County, Ill., Mark A. Cunningham, an assistant county administrator in Sarasota County, and Dale M. Walker, county manager for Macon-Bibb County, Ga.,
"It wasn't easy, but again all five of us picked the same guy,'' said Commissioner Jack Mariano.
The commission is seeking a successor to County Administrator Michele Baker, who announced in late 2015 that she would not seek a new contract when her two-year agreement expires in July. Baker, the former deputy county administrator, was hired in 2013 to succeed John Gallagher, who served as county administrator for more than three decades.
The job posting listed the annual salary at $220,000. Baker is paid $192,816. Biles recently received a "golden-handcuffs'' raise of 18 percent, bringing his annual salary to $207,500, in an attempt by Jefferson County to keep him, said the county's recruiting consultant, Mark J. Morien.
Morien, vice president of GovHR USA, an executive recruiting firm retained by the county, guided commissioners through the search process. Mariano and Commissioner Kathryn Starkey are the only members still on the board that hired Baker in 2013.
Jefferson County, Ala. has a population of 659,500, roughly 32 percent more than Pasco. Commissioners previously said Biles' engineering background would be a plus as Pasco tackles an overhaul of its aging stormwater drainage system, primarily in west Pasco.
The board instructed Morien to prepare a preliminary offer sheet for Biles. Moore will handle the negotiations on behalf of the county.