County interviews 5 for admin job

Published 11:44 pm Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Covington County Commission interviewed five applicants for county administrator, and set the beginning pay for the person to be hired at $62,500 Tuesday, and to include vacation, sick leave and insurance benefits. Because the commission appoints the administrator, the salary is not set by the county’s otherwise adopted schedule.

But commissioners did not decide how they will narrow the list of applicants for the job, which will become vacant when long-time administrator Brenda Petty retires Jan. 1.

Last month, the commission agreed to accept applications only from those already employed by the county.

On Tuesday, they spent a little more than two hours interviewing Patricia Gunter, Susan Harris, Kiep Johnson, Karen Lawson Sowell and Alan Syler.

• Gunter currently is the district administrative coordinator for the Covington County Soil & Water Conservation District. She also serves as mayor of River Falls. Her previous experience includes being chief probate clerk.

Asked how she would handle working for a group of people, Gunter likened it to her work as mayor.

“In the town, working with the council, I carry out the things that the council approves to do,” she said. “Commissioners vote on what they want the county to do.

“The administrator’s job is making sure what gets done that you all approve to have done,” Gunter said.

• Harris is the current director of the county’s Emergency Management Agency, where she has worked since 2009.

Harris said as a current department head, there are several things she’d like to see the commission do.

“I see an issue coming in the near future with the way we do pay raises,” she said. “These are now actually line items. As head of department, you have to make decisions about who gets raises. Each head of a department is wise enough to do that, but I feel like we need back-up.

“One thing I suggest is we start doing employee evaluations,” she said. “Some departments might have to choose who gets a raise. It can be very difficult. If you have evaluations, you have documentation to back up decisions. It could be easy, and would not take very long.”

Harris also said morale among county employees is very low.

“I have never seen morale so low,” she said. “I think the heads of departments can help with that. A positive evaluation is a way to tell them thank you.”

• Johnson is office manager for the Covington County engineer’s office, and serves as the county’s safety coordinator. He has worked in the engineering office for 14 years.

Johnson said he believes he is the most qualified because he loves the county and is willing to make sacrifices for the job.

“I love the county,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been here 14 years if I didn’t. I don’t have any problems working Saturday or Sunday. You come to my house or I’ll come to yours. I’ll meet you wherever you want to go. I’m willing to sacrifice a lot.”

• Sowell has served as chief clerk of the probate office since 2007.

Asked if she could handle the controversy that sometimes comes with the job, Sowell said, “I’ve been through three judges. We’ve had times there were not as good as others. I don’t feel like I would have any problems. I have ability to agree to disagree.”

• Syler is the deputy director of EMA, where he has worked since 2012. He previously has worked as a sheriff’s deputy.

Syler said his work experience includes sales, that he is familiar with the bidding process; has been in the restaurant business and understands scheduling purchasing and pricing; and he’s even farmed.

“I definitely understand budgeting restraints,” he said. “Being in law enforcement taught me to deal with people of every caliber.”

Commissioners also agreed Tuesday that whomever is hired will be evaluated six months later by a committee of two commissioners, and appointed Carl Turman and Kenneth Northey to the committee.