Bradford County commissioners voted Monday to push the search for a county manager to their April 5 meeting, leaving the county without a full-time manager for at least another two months.
In a 3-2 vote, the commission decided to push the search to its first meeting in April. Until then, the county’s nine departments will continue under the oversight of Will Sexton, the county attorney and interim county manager. It also solidified plans to set up meetings with nearby current and former county managers to gain more insight into the search process.
“We take a look at it again, see where we are,” Commissioner Chris Dougherty said during the meeting. “If it looks like we’re going down that road, we certainly pick up from there and move on.”
The vote came after 20 minutes of discussions on the role, during which board members differed on whether the position was even necessary.
Commissioner Carolyn Spooner noted Sexton’s dual role in balancing the responsibilities of the county’s functions while handling the legal aspects.
“It’s a challenge there,” she said. “It’s all the more reason to me to move forward, so that it doesn’t become so overwhelming that it’s become more difficult to do the regular things.”
She proposed a motion to move forward on the search during the board’s next meeting, currently scheduled for Feb. 18.
“I feel that it is incumbent upon us to start the process,” Spooner said. “We would do a disservice to our community if we don’t do that.”
The county has been without a full-time manager since Dec. 31, after Rachel Rhoden, who served as manager for one year, left the position for a job with the county clerk’s office. She replaced Brad Carter, who retired in December 2019 after 12 years in the role.
Commissioner Diane Andrews agreed, disputing Dougherty’s idea of waiting six months.
“I think that is just way too long,” Andrews said. “It’s just time we step up to the plate, get our county back into organization, get our departments back under our county manager and get things organized.”
Sexton told commissioners he planned to meet with Michele Lieberman, Alachua County’s manager and the president of the Florida Association of County Managers, later this month to gain insight about the role and have the association speak with the board on the search process.
But two other commissioners, Danny Riddick and Kenny Thompson, weren’t convinced of the need for an immediate search.
Riddick said he wanted to hold off on finding Rhoden’s successor, not wanting to risk hiring a bad candidate.
“I don’t want to move forward too fast and put someone in there to disrupt what we’ve got going on,” Riddick said. “Let’s just see exactly what we do before we go rushing in.”
“I like dealing with our departments,” he said. “I don’t think we need to rush into this.”
But whether the board will be able to conduct a search before the start of the fiscal year remains to be seen.
Andrews cited Monday’s WUFT story in which Chris Holley, a former executive director of the Florida Association of Counties and a former manager of five counties and cities, said a search could take up to six months.
If one is not completed by October, the start of the fiscal year, that could cause problems, he said.
“Anything longer than six months, you start running into that cycle of things where that transition can become more difficult,” Holley said.
After the discussion, Spooner proposed a motion to move forward in either February or March. It failed 3-2, with Dougherty, Riddick and Thompson voting against. It was followed by a second motion to table discussion of the issue until April, which passed 3-2.
Andrews and Spooner were the only “no” votes.