ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) — For the past year, Escambia County has been without a permanent county administrator. Today, the Escambia County Board of Commissioners brought up hiring interim county administrator Wes Moreno, after reviewing candidates.
The county received the work product of a consulting firm hired to search for candidates for the position during its Committee of the Whole meeting. County attorney, Alison Rogers said the firm was looking for direction on how to proceed, but by the end of the meeting, their services wouldn’t be needed anymore.
Commissioner Steven Barry started off the conversation, saying he was concerned about the lack of depth of the number of applicants.
“I don’t know if they went out again, but it does look like we have a large pool of qualified applicants,” said Barry. “Some with local and regional ties, but a number that looks qualified.”
Barry said he is not interested in bringing folks to town for an interview, and that he has been conducting a 13 to 14 months interview with Moreno, which has been going well.
“I have been extremely pleased with the performance and responsiveness to our office as well as the board,” said Barry. “I would be supportive of giving the consultant a checkmark and saying a job well done but would be interested in asking Alison to negotiate a contract with Wes and bring it to us next week.”
Commissioner Doug Underhill said there were several qualified candidates that could take over the reigns and would like to follow through with the search.
“When Wes took the job, he stood at that podium and made it very clear that he did not want to remain in this job,” said Underhill. “That he was doing what he was doing for the good of his community and did not want to remain in this position full time, but was stepping up to shepherd us through a very difficult time in our community. I believe, as we should, we need to follow through with the strategy that we put into place.”
Chairman Jeff Bergosh said that when they went through this process years ago, they had hundreds of highly qualified candidates. This year, that was not the case.
“In this bunch, there are people with some fairly good resumes,” said Bergosh. “Cities much smaller than our county, counties much smaller than our county, assistant administrators of counties that are much smaller than our county. You’ve even got a person that used to work at Waffle House. You’ve got people that have their own company, whatever that is. You’ve got a lot of fluff in here and we only have a total of 28 names. I agree with Steve, check the box, pay the consultant and like you, I would be leaning, much more heavily toward getting a contract with who we know. We know Wes Moreno. He has been here the last 30 years. I don’t want to use an expletive, so I won’t, but he’s kicked butt.”
Bergosh then asked Moreno if they offered him the job, would he take it.
“Commissioner Underhill is exactly right, he asked me a question when I was offered the position and I said I would not, and I have not. I have not applied for the position,” said Moreno.
“I will say this, when you step into this role, you don’t know what you don’t know. I believe the board gave me an opportunity, maybe because I have been around so long. Maybe it’s because I’ve been the public works director, being involved in a lot of different projects throughout the years. It has let me bring something to the table that maybe some outside folks wouldn’t bring.”
Taking the job during a tumultuous time in the county, Moreno said he did what he knew to do; show up to work.
“To do this role, you have to have a good engineering department, and I have the best county engineer sitting right here,” Moreno said. “You’ve got to have a good budget office, HR office and you’ve got to have an office of procurement that can drive work out. Across the county, I think things are a lot better than things were 13 months ago. If it is the board’s desire that I continue, I would be willing to continue.”
Commissioner Lumon May said he doesn’t think there is a better person than Moreno when doing a project but said he does have concerns with the lack of diversity in county positions.
“The lack of diversity in minorities and women within the fire department is a big issue to me,” said May. “Even sometimes when I sit at this dais, the lack of diversity that I see out there, is not reflective of this community.”
Moving forward, Rogers is going to draft a contract to bring back to the BOC and they will vote on it at a future meeting.