Commissioners OK National Search To Replace Weisman

The Palm Beach County Commission agreed Tuesday to conduct a national search to find a replacement for retiring County Administrator Bob Weisman, but also to leave options open for an in-house replacement.

Weisman will be retiring in August 2015 after 35 years with the county, 22 in the top job.

Assistant County Administrator Brad Merriman offered several options to the commissioners, including a direct appointment, as was done in 1991 when Weisman was tapped as administrator. A second option would be a promotion from within, and yet another option would be a national search led by the county’s human resources staff.

“That is something that we have done in the past, and we are actively doing right now with the search for a new inspector general,” Merriman said.

The option favored by commissioners, however, was to conduct a search through a national headhunting firm.

“That’s something we have done in the past,” Merriman said. “But it has been a very long time since we’ve hired a headhunter.”
He estimated that the cost for a national search firm would be about $50,000.

“There are lots of them out there, and there are many that specialize in executive-level governmental positions,” Merriman said.

During public comment, several residents and a representative from the business community said they would like a national search with a local committee to screen results.

Commissioner Stephen Abrams said he would also support a national search, although he had heard stories about searches that did not turn out well.

“I think if we could try to identify a firm that has had success, particularly with recruiting the top person of a county or large city government, we could avoid that,” Abrams said. “A lot of it is just the personality fit, and ultimately that may not be evident when the board selects a new administrator.”

He pointed out that hiring or promoting from within might also have a bad result, because even though commissioners would know the person, they can’t know how he or she would perform.

“It certainly doesn’t preclude hiring from within if we conduct a national search, and we have folks who apply and they measure against the other people,” Abrams said. “Secondly, an advisory board or community board as has been suggested would be a good supplement to that.”

Vice Mayor Paulette Burdick said she had participated in local, state and national searches for a school superintendent when she sat on the Palm Beach County School Board.

“That’s the largest business in Palm Beach County, and perhaps the most important job relating to economic development is educating our boys and girls for our future work force,” she said. “Each time we had a citizens committee. I certainly would support a citizens committee. Since I was elected three years ago, I’ve been observing our internal employees and evaluating their performance, and I think we have highly skilled and capable individuals working for the county who can certainly do the job.”

Burdick pointed out that the county is one of the few in the country with a AAA bond rating.

“We promote ourselves as ‘The Best of Everything,’ and I can support a national search and a citizens committee,” she said. “I think it will assist us at the end of the day in validating if we do indeed have the best people within Palm Beach County to serve the citizens.”

Commissioner Hal Valeche also supported a national search with a citizens committee.

“I just want to emphasize for the search and the committee that we give a lot of weight to the familiarity of the personnel with the county and with how things have run around here, because they have run very well,” he said. “I don’t think we’re looking for a big change.”

Commissioner Shelley Vana said she was a strong proponent of hiring from within.

“However, I think the comment about validation is important, because the community needs to know that whoever we choose, whether it’s from without or within, that everyone has been measured against the highest standard that we can have.”

Vana also supported a community board, but wanted to know how it would work, and stressed that as the elected officials, the commissioners would make the final decision.

Commissioner Jess Santamaria said that the county has a top-notch management staff.

“We want to continue that type of superior management,” Santamaria said. “I do join everyone who has stated that we need to go national and go through the entire country and get the best of the best, and match them with whoever is interested in the position and compare them.”

Santamaria had concerns about a selection committee. “What happens when you create a selection committee, the human tendency is to select someone who thinks like you think,” he said. “The people who select the committee are duplicating themselves.”

Commissioner Mary Lou Berger asked whether the county has a job description for county administrator, and Merriman said that developing one would be part of the search process.

Berger pointed out that time is running out, since Weisman is scheduled to retire in August 2015. “We need to be sure that whoever we bring on comes in early enough to at least use the wisdom that we have here with Mr. Weisman before we let him get away,” she said.

Mayor Priscilla Taylor noted that the county is slated to lose several other top-level employees within the next several years to retirement.

“That makes it even more important that we reach out and get the right one,” Taylor said. “I do feel that we have people in-house who could do it, who could actually walk up and take over the job, but I think that we should be giving to our public the opportunity to see the best.”

Taylor said she thought it was important that the commissioners be as involved in the selection process as possible.

Merriman said the final part of the process will be interviews in a public hearing with a short list of candidates.

Burdick favored a citizens committee to work with the search firm. She also recommended that the committee meet at night so that the public could attend.

Merriman said he could have a set of specific recommendations ready in four to six weeks and would proceed with the process to select an executive search firm that would work with an advisory committee, with its composition and role to be determined.


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