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Bradford County Unsure Whether To Search For New County Manager

Bradford County’s last day with a full-time county manager was Dec. 31. It's unclear if or when the county will look for or have a new one.

The county’s five commissioners are set to discuss the position during their meeting Monday. But they and county staff are unsure whether it needs to be filled, what the parameters of a candidates’ search should be and or how much the role should be paid.

“Until we know what the board is looking for, and how the process to implement that works – I can’t imagine developing a timeline without that,” said Will Sexton, the Bradford County attorney and interim county manager.

Sexton assumed the interim manager’s position Jan. 4, putting him in charge of Bradford’s day-to-day operations, its nine departments and a $54.7 million annual budget. He replaced Rachel Rhoden, who had served as the county’s manager between July and December.

Rhoden had been interim county manager the prior six months – a time, of course, when the coronavirus pandemic engulfed the world –  and after having been deputy manager under Brad Carter, who was Bradford’s full-time manager for 12 years until retiring in December 2019.

Rhoden this month started a job within the county clerk’s office. She was earning just over $59,000 a year as county manager – or $10,000 less than Carter’s annual salary, Sexton said. Carter’s tenure was likely what contributed to the salary discrepancy, Sexton said.

The lack of a permanent manager comes as county governments across the state and nation have become critical to the distribution of vaccines amid the pandemic.

District 5 Commissioner Diane Andrews said she plans Monday to introduce a motion calling on the commission to begin looking for a full-time replacement for Carter. Andrews said the county manager’s role was “a very vital part that we need to fill as soon as possible.”

The commission discussed the position on Jan. 11 after hearing status reports about the county’s departments. Chairman Chris Dougherty was unsure whether to search for a new manager.

“We have people that are in the right positions to make management decisions and run autonomously enough for us to be able to stay abreast of what’s going on,” Dougherty said during the meeting.

Dougherty said he wants the search postponed for six months, after which the commission could decide if more oversight was needed.

“They do a very good job at reporting back to us and giving us the information that we need,” Dougherty said of the department heads. “If it’s not broken, let’s not try to fix it.”

However, Andrews and Commissioners Carolyn Spooner and Danny Riddick each said the county would be better served with a full-time manager overseeing its daily functions. Commissioner Kenny Thompson didn’t comment on the search during the meeting.

“That position is critical to our county,” Spooner said. “It’s important for us to move forward with defining that role responsibility and filling that position as soon as we can.”

Andrews said in an interview that a delay could harm the county. She cited her past experience of seeing staff unable to function well as a warden within the Florida Department of Corrections.

“You’re going to wear your staff down,” Andrews said. “It’s very easy to miss something that’s super vital and important because you’re carrying someone else’s job.”

Andrews, who was elected in November, said Rhoden was particularly effective in appropriating government funding, something the commissioner hopes her replacement can continue.

The commissioner also hopes to amend what she considers a fault during Rhoden’s tenure: salary. Andrews said the next manager’s starting salary should be $85,000. That would be in line with other Florida counties of Bradford’s size (pop. 28,201), she said.

Chris Holley, a former executive director of the Florida Association of Counties and a previous manager for five cities and counties, said the earliest Bradford could hire a new manager would be six months, especially given there’s not even a job listing already out. That would give the county time to set the criteria, advertise the position and interview finalists, Holley said.

With counties operating on fiscal years starting in October, he cautioned against waiting too much longer than that.

“Anything longer than six months, you start running into that cycle of things where that transition can become more difficult,” Holley said.

Andrews agreed.

“When your system is missing a major link, you’re going to feel it eventually,” she said. “I don’t want to see that happen to Bradford County.”

Corbin is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.