MOORE HAVEN — The Glades County Board has selected Jennifer James-Mesloh as its top choice to be the next county manager, for the second time in just over a year.
Ms. Mesloh, a resident of Michigan, was Glades commissioners’ top-ranked applicant last summer, too, before withdrawing her name from consideration last Aug. 3. Their second pick, Martin Murphy, was hired but lasted only several months before he was dismissed by the county board June 24, 2019, after which the board decided to conduct another, expedited search.
County Attorney Richard Pringle started off the decision-making discussion on Monday, Aug. 26, by noting that the Glades commissioners had conducted interviews with their four final candidates — Ms. Mesloh, Crystal Drake, Paul McGehee and Larry Underwood — on Aug. 13 when they reconvened their regular morning meeting at the training center. Then the board approved a motion to give each commissioner time to assess those interviewed and come back to the meeting Monday for review, discussion and a possible decision.
Mr. Pringle said they also directed Human Resources Director Gabby Ibietatorremendia to gather information from the candidates’ references and present it to the board, which was done in the intervening time. The attorney went on to outline their choices as to what to do next, but commissioners already were jotting down their votes.
When they were tallied, Ms. Ibietatorremendia gave the results: Ms. Mesloh was the top choice of four of the five commissioners. Points were assigned, with the lowest total being the first pick: Ms. Mesloh, 7; Ms. Drake, 12; Mr. McGehee, 12; and Mr. Underwood, 18.
Commissioner John Ahern said he thought the board chairman and county attorney should be authorized to negotiate a contract with Ms. Mesloh and that they could discuss the terms before doing so.
“If for some reason it didn’t work out, then I guess we could come back and decide how to move forward from there,” he said.
Commissioner Donna Storter Long suggested, “We should go on to the next one because we thought we had this done before, and it would just take more time.” She wanted the chairman and attorney to move to commissioners’ second pick if they were unable to agree quickly with Ms. Mesloh. She said it in a joking way, recalling Ms. Mesloh’s withdrawal in 2018 and making her colleagues laugh, starting, “If for some reason we get to the altar but the bride isn’t there…”
Chairman Tim Stanley said he needed some direction as to contract terms, and would proceed with the range the board had set when it advertised the position, with an annual salary excluding benefits of between $100,000 and $125,000. But he wanted to know if they wanted a one-year or a multiple-year contract.
But Mrs. Long said they should limit the pay range for Ms. Mesloh to whatever she had agreed to accept last year before withdrawing her name from consideration. Neither County Attorney Pringle nor Commissioner Ahern, who’d conducted talks with her, could remember what that amount was. Mr. Ahern said it wasn’t at the top or bottom of the range, and Mrs. Long said their range in 2018 was smaller, with not as high an upper figure.
She made a motion to direct the chairman and attorney to negotiate with Ms. Mesloh, stipulating that they offer the same amount as they had in 2018. Commissioner Donald Strenth seconded, but when Mr. Stanley called for discussion, Mr. Ahern objected to the limitation, saying he did not want to be boxed in.
“I would like to have a little room in there to negotiate salary,” he said.
Commissioner Storter retorted, “Well, you do. You’ve got the (range) you did before. Look what she did to us!”
The motion passed 5-0, but Commissioner Pryor asked clerk assistant Julie Braddock, “Did you get all that?” about Commissioner Storter’s motion, and she said she did, “but I need clarification on the salary part.”
Attorney Pringle said he’d go back and check his notes but was semi-certain that she had agreed to a lower figure than the top of the range offered last year. “If she did not agree, then it would be within the range that you published that time,” he said.
Mrs. Long said she thought she remembered that Ms. Mesloh had not asked for the maximum, but she wanted to limit the top-end amount to whatever the candidate had agreed to in 2018.
“I think it was like $110,000 or $115,000,” said Commissioner Strenth.
“All I know is I got a letter saying she was out,” Chairman Stanley said.
Mr. Pringle and Mr. Stanley said they’d report on their progress at the next meeting, Sept. 10.