New Administrator

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 18, 2008

Short list gets even shorter for selection of next administrator

By Billy Davis

And then there were 10.

Two more applicants have withdrawn from the search for Panola County’s next administrator, dropping the current list of applicants from 13 to 10.

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Interviews for the job are set to begin next Monday at 9 a.m. at the Batesville courthouse.

Current administrator David Chandler told The Panolian on Wednesday that applicants Terry Johnson and Tim Climer have withdrawn.

Johnson currently serves as county administrator of Union County, which adjoins the eastern portion of Lafayette County. He was the only current administrator seeking the job.

Tim Climer serves as president of Growth Alliance, an economic development group that serves West Point, Miss. and Clay County.

Panola County road manager Lygunnah Bean formally withdrew his name Monday, marking the first person to take his name off the list.

Chandler made the list of applicants public at a June 9 supervisors meeting when he passed out a list of the names to supervisors and a reporter. When the list was made public, The Panolian published the names in its June 10 issue.

Asked Thursday why he chose to disclose the list of applicants, Chandler said he made them public “because I thought everybody should know,” comparing the situation to announcing bids.

Chandler said he told each of the applicants, “Tell your bosses that your names are going to become public.” He acknowledged moments later, however, that some of the applicants had not received that warning. 

The search for a new administrator comes after Chandler announced last year that he is retiring from the powerful county post after 22 years. He was hired by county supervisors in 1987 when Panola County switched from the “beat” to the “unit” system. 

The county administrator’s post is authorized by state law under a provision known as Counties and County Officers. Mississippi counties operate under the unit system or beat system, and both modes of government require that supervisors appoint someone other than a board member as administrator.

Under state law, the county beat system, but not the unit system, requires that an administrator possess at least a bachelor’s degree. Chandler is a graduate of Delta State University, where he earned a degree in accounting.

At Chandler’s suggestion, Panola supervisors added the degree requirement, too, and included it in a job-opening ad in a magazine published by the Miss. Association of Supervisors. But that requirement was later removed from Monday’s interviews at the suggestion of board president Robert Avant.

Three of the 13 applicants failed to meet the degree requirement, including Bean and two other county employees, deputy tax collector Billy Bright and purchase clerk Carolyn Mills.

Avant said this week that he considered it “common courtesy” to allow the three applicants to interview for the job.

“I did it because of their experience. Sometimes experience is better than a degree,” Avant said. “They took the time to fill out an application, and it seemed like common courtesy to listen to what they have to say.”

Asked if he believed the belated decision may have precluded other applicants without degrees, especially since it was made after the deadline for applications had passed, Avant called that scenario “speculation.”

“That’s speculation because nobody told me they didn’t apply. I haven’t heard that from anybody,” Avant said.

Johnson, reached Thursday by The Panolian, said he withdrew because “I’m satisfied where I am right now.”

Johnson added that one reason for dropping out was uncertainty about whether Panola County would match his current salary, which he declined to give.

The board of supervisors has not set a minimum salary but has stated the annual pay will match experience.

Chandler’s annual salary had reached $150,800 when he officially stepped down December 31. He is currently working on a month-to-month contract at $7,500 a month, plus benefits, in preparation for finding his replacement.

Chandler acknowledged that his salary has been a source of controversy in Panola County, but he responded that, across the state, administrator’s annual salaries range from $90,000 to $100,000.

“I have taken on more responsibilities than most administrators do,” Chandler said. “I know people say it’s a waste of money, but you don’t hear that complaint about a superintendent of education or a school principal. They only say that about county government.”

Chandler said he expected more than 13 applications, since the job opening was announced across the state, and was “very surprised” at the response.

With an expectation of more applications, the original plan called for Chandler and three supervisors to narrow the list to five or six applicants, but that plan was scrapped when 13 people applied for the job.

“With the response we got, it makes sense to bring everybody before the board,” Chandler said. “Now we’ve only got 10 applicants – eight if you don’t count the ones without a degree.”

Monday’s meeting with applicants falls under the state’s executive session statute, advised Bill McKenzie, attorney for the board. McKenzie said he was unsure if supervisors would claim that privilege or keep the interviews open.