BISBEE — Though noticed as an executive session closed to the public, the Cochise County Board of Supervisors spoke frankly in an open meeting Tuesday about the process to hire a new county administrator.
Current county administrator Ed Gilligan will be leaving on Aug. 31 for a post as the state Supreme Court’s Division Director of Adult Probation Services and Supervisors Tom Borer, Ann English and Peggy Judd would like to have someone in place to take over the organizational duties.
The county faces possible budgetary problems with the continuing COVID–19 pandemic which has and may continue to have a negative impact so having someone in the position is important to addressing such issues.
The county put out a notice for letters of interest for professionals who might consider the job and Gilligan said he received 17 letters, some from members of the county staff.
Since the supervisors decided to talk only about the process of hiring and next steps rather than discuss the 17 individuals, they decided to keep the session open and the audio of the meeting was posted on Wednesday so the public would have access to the conversation.
Borer emphasized there should be no special treatment given to any of the candidates who submitted letters and he did not want the selection process to be perceived as “unfair” with “advantage given to one over another.”
He also said he would not be voting on a selected candidate since he had “no dog in the fight” as he would not be in office after January 1 having lost his District 1 seat to Thomas Crosby in the primary election earlier this month.
“I didn’t see the announcement,” he continued. “But, if we only asked for a letter of interest with no criteria, we need to make a formal recruitment announcement.”
Judd, who secured her seat as District 3 supervisor in the primary, agreed and stated, “We asked for the letters of interest because we didn’t know if we would have a qualified pool of applicants interested in the local area. We need a pool in my opinion. Everyone should be given the opportunity to fill out an application.”
English, who still faces opposition from Lori Kilpatrick and Anna Eickenbrock, admitted, “I can’t treat all these people equally in my mind,” as a few of the letters came from county staff. “I read the letters and said ‘No’ to some.”
Gilligan suggested they direct him and other professional staff members to conduct brief 10 to 15 minute interviews to ask just a few, specific questions and allow the candidates an opportunity to ask questions or make comments, which would help narrow the field.
Since the last job posting required candidates for the job to have a Master’s degree, English wanted that to be one of the questions. Some of the letters did not indicate the level of education they had.
Gilligan suggested the supervisors take professional experience into account in their ranking of candidates as well.
“As a person who has done this job, I can tell you that they will need a strong background and professional experience in organization, finance and government management,” he said.
However, he also pointed out that someone with a master’s degree or even a doctorate would look good on paper, but “may not be able to run the county.”
He added, “I can give you the answers to evaluate them and that will quickly narrow the field. The interviews could supplement the material you have.”
Borer suggested asking the candidates if they would still be interested in the job with the board membership undecided.
All will be asked the same questions, Gilligan said. Human Resources director Elda Orduno and Civil Deputy County Attorney Christine Roberts could be in on the calls.
English also asked the contract include “something specific” about how the board could change and the new hire could face losing the job. She suggested adding a sum in the contract to cover some agreed upon figure to pay out if such a turn of events occurred.
“What can we do to let them know we thought about that,” continued English. “It’s not fair to bring in a qualified professional not knowing about a new board.”
Roberts told her those provisions could be included.
Borer noted the person selected should be “a personal fit” with the organization and English agreed.
“The applicant can look good on paper and then come in and we say ‘what a dud,’” English added.
The supervisors suggested Gilligan proceed with the short interviews and report back to them by Monday. If the pool does not pan out, they recommended widening the search to create a larger pool of candidates.
“If we get that and rain by Monday, I’ll be happy,” she joked.