FORT WALTON BEACH — Okaloosa County commissioners on Thursday declined to identify a frontrunner among the four finalists for county administrator.
Commissioners conducted public interviews with the finalists at a special meeting after one-on-one interviews earlier in the day.
“I’d like to just measure twice and cut once,” Commissioner Kelly Windes said at the meeting. “I’d like to sleep on it.”
Commissioners also delayed their final selection because Commissioner Wayne Harris was absent due to a family emergency. The board agreed to make its decision at its meeting Tuesday in Crestview.
Whoever is hired will replace Jim Curry after he steps down April 19.
Commissioners had selected five finalists, but Richard Starks, county administrator for Florence County, S.C., dropped out of the running.
The remaining four are Rick Chaffin, deputy city manager of McKinney, Texas; Ted Lakey, county manager of Jackson County, Fla.; Stephen Layson, chief administrative officer of Bibb County, Ga., and Ernie Padgett, former county administrator of Manatee County, Fla.
Padgett also is a former administrator for Santa Rosa County and a former administrator and county commissioner for Jackson County.
Chaffin, whose experience lies primarily in municipal government settings, told the board he would welcome the challenge of leading a county in a new state.
“It’s always a dynamic environment, whether you’re in Texas or Florida,” he told the board. “It’s always a learning process.”
Chaffin said he had developed a “collaborative” style of management from working extensively with the police and fire unions in McKinney, a city of about 133,000.
Layson, who is from Macon, Ga., is one of two finalists who also have served as elected county commissioners. He was on the Putnam County, Ga., board of commissioners for 12 years.
He said county governments largely operate in the same ways, but that he is prepared for the challenge Florida would present.
“I do think the difference is in the laws. … And you’ve got to study those,” Layson said.
He told the board Okaloosa County is a place he and his wife could call home on a long-term basis.
“I think if I were to move my roots here … I hope I can retire here if you guys would keep me,” he said.
Lakey, who has served as Jackson County’s administrator for 10 years, told commissioners the Okaloosa post is “the next step up” in the field.
“I see Okaloosa County as a good opportunity for me,” he said.
Lakey worked in and led the Public Works Department in Escambia County and was a correctional lieutenant with the Birmingham, Ala., Police Department.
He said his most significant achievements in Jackson County have been paving more than 100 miles of the 900 miles of dirt roads and bringing six major companies to the county.
Padgett told the board his four-year term as a Jackson County commissioner gave him an “appreciation for policy makers.”
He left his post in Manatee County in 2007 because he and his wife wanted to travel and pursue other interests. He said he’s decided to continue his career in local government and found the Okaloosa job interesting.
Padgett said he enjoys county government because “it’s closest to the people.”
“Citizens have real access to their local elected officials, and I like that concept,” he said. “It’s really stimulating for me.”
Padgett said his management style is one of a facilitator who does not feel the need to micromanage his employees.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Kari Barlow at 850-315-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KariBnwfdn.