Commissioners prioritize different qualifications for administrator hire

Published 3:00 am Thursday, June 28, 2018

The county commission is down to two candidates to take over as the next county administrator.

The commissioners split the vote between the two candidates Monday night and will now have three more meetings to either choose one of the candidates or go back to the drawing board.

Three commissioners – Jimmy Barron, Charlie Harris and Homer Wright – voted for Dr. LaKerri Mack as the new administrator, but the other three commissioners voted against Mack to stymie the vote.

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The other three commissioners – Russell Johnson, Chad Copeland and Robin Sullivan – then cast their votes for McKenzie Wilson, but the other three commissioners blocked their nomination as well.

Charlie Harris, District 5, explained why he voted to hire Mack, currently a professor at Troy University with an educational background in public policy, public administration and criminal justice.

“Dr. Mack has a Ph. D.,” Harris said. “She is well-qualified to be our next county administrator … In the interviews, she answered all the questions right. I think she would be the best person for the job to lead us forward.”

McKenzie Wilson has served in the commission office for 20 years, including her current position as head of human resources and safety for the county.

Russell Johnson, District 6, said Wilson’s experience in the county already makes her the candidate the commission needs right now.

“We had 17 applicants, and as we worked through that, one of the bigger weights to me was real-world experience in an administrative position whether in the private sector or public sector – someone with experience enacting things, dealing with public policy.

“As we narrowed this thing down, we all agreed we had two good last applicants, but in my opinion today, there is more in the balance in Pike County today than any other point in it’s history.”

Johnson pointed to the 700 jobs currently being brought into the county from new industries including Kimber Manufacturing, Rex Lumber and Conecuh Ridge Distillery, the potential merger of EMA and e911, and the new jail that the county has committed to building in the near future.

“This is going to be the largest expenditure of money this county has ever made,” Johnson said. “ … There’s too much in balance not to hire a capable individual with 20 years of experience that knows the facts, the data and where all this paperwork is already.”

Harris pointed out that Harry Sanders, who retired from the position in March, was hired in from the outside.

“It’s just like I told everybody else, Harry Sanders had never worked in that job and when he came in, he went right on into it,” Harris said. “I believe Dr. Mack is just as smart to be able to do it.”

Johnson said that when Sanders was hired, there wasn’t an internal candidate with comparable experience to Wilson.

“Mr. Sanders made a recommendation for Wilson,” Johnson said. “I felt because of his thoughts and her job experience, there’s too much at risk to bring in somebody that has to learn everything from scratch.”

Jimmy Barron, District 3, said he believes Dr. Mack could come in and immediately learn the ropes and lead the county forward.

“She’s a sharp lady,” Barron said. “I don’t think it would take her long to come in and learn the system. All the commissioners agreed that she gave the best interview.”

Chad Copeland, District 4, said both candidates have good resumes and backgrounds, but agreed with Johnson that experience within the county system is an important factor.

“We had a candidate that didn’t have to come in and get up to speed,” Copeland said. “That’s why I supported her and thought she is the right one for the job.”

Robin Sullivan, District 2, said Wilson deserves a chance as a 20-year employee of the county with knowledge of how the office operates.

“How can it be right for someone who has worked there 20 years not to have a chance?” Sullivan said.

Homer Wright, District 1, declined to comment on why he chose to vote for Mack.

Efforts to reach Mack were unsuccessful. Wilson declined to comment.

County attorney Allen Jones said he is researching the county’s rules on tie votes to ensure that the county understands exactly how to handle the situation if it does not resolve itself.

Sullivan said his interpretation of the county’s rules is that the item will remain on the agenda for three more meetings before it rotates off, at which point he said that the commission may have to start back at the drawing board.

The next meeting of the commission will be Monday, July 9 upstairs at the Pike County Health Department. The work session will begin at 5:15 p.m. and will be followed by a business meeting at 6 p.m.