Johnson pulls out of county administrator pool

February 18, 2014 9:49:03 AM

Carl Smith - [email protected]


The candidate pool for Oktibbeha County's vacant county administrator position narrowed Monday but not by supervisors' doing. 


Union County Administrator Terry Johnson pulled out of the race before his scheduled interview with the county board. Supervisors did not immediately give a reason for the move, but it is believed that he dropped out of contention because interviews were held in the open and not behind closed doors in executive session. 


The remaining four candidates gave similar interviews Monday, with each promising to aggressively search for grant funding in the future and lean on existing employees during their transition into office if hired. 


Oktibbeha County Comptroller Emily Garrard, former Starkville Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill, Adcare Healthcare Regional Vice President John Thomas and Ivory Williams, a former Jackson deputy director for external funding, all answered a list of 12 questions provided by supervisors, which covered a range of topics from acquiring grant funding for county projects to implementing emerging technologies to improve governance.  


Supervisors did not name a preferred candidate Monday. Instead, the board will continue discussions on March 17. At least two county representatives will be absent from the board's next regularly scheduled meeting on March 3. 


A public hearing on the county's comprehensive plan will be held that day at 6 p.m. Supervisors will continue discussions on the county administrator search an hour before the meeting. The county's notice encourages all residents, business owners and interested parties, including residents of Starkville, Maben and Sturgis, to attend the planning meeting. 


Prior to the interviews, the board voted 3-2 to conduct the discussions behind closed doors, with District 1 Supervisor Orlando Trainer and District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams voting against the matter. After the board received criticism from the only two public attendees at the meeting, District 3 Supervisor Marvel Howard rescinded his vote, and the interviews were held before the public. 


After the meeting, District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery said he was nearing a decision on which candidate he would support. He alluded to hiring one of the three local applicants by referring to the strong pool of candidates from within Oktibbeha County. 


It is unknown if the board will continue narrowing the candidate pool to two candidates or make an outright hire on March 17. Supervisors could choose to go behind closed doors that day to discuss the personnel move. 


If a hire is not made in that meeting, the search is expected to continue into April. 


Since former County Administrator Don Posey's retirement in December, board members have repeatedly referred to the position's search as an informal process -- one without set deadlines or guidelines.  


"I think everybody did well in the interview process. We have a hard decision to make, but we want to make the best decision we can for the county. Hopefully when we come together to discuss it again, we'll be ready to continue to the next stage -- whatever that is," Howard said following Monday's meeting. "I think the board will know when it's time to hire at the point when we feel comfortable that we have all the information possible on the candidates and we feel comfortable with the person we're going to offer the job to. When we arrive at that point, we'll know."

Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch