After national search, Escambia County interim county administrator to get permanent role

·4 min read

Wes Moreno is set to be hired as the permanent county administrator for Escambia County after a majority of county commissioners voiced support Thursday for hiring him.

Moreno has been serving as interim county administrator since June 2021, when the County Commission fired previous County Administrator Janice Gilley.

The county began a nationwide search for a permanent county administrator in January, paying GovHR USA $22,500 to recruit candidates for the position.

Wes Moreno
Wes Moreno

Of the 28 people who applied for the position, GovHR recommended 13 candidates for interviews.

GovHR broke their recommendations into two parts, seven "tier 1" candidates and six "tier 2" candidates.

All of the tier one candidates were either current or former city or county managers or deputy managers. One candidate came from Florida and the others from states including Texas, Michigan and Oregon.

Commissioner Steven Barry said the GovHR brought back several qualified candidates, but he considers Moreno's current service a year-long job interview for the position.

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"I have been extremely pleased and extremely happy with the performance, with the responsiveness to our office as well as, I think, the responsiveness to this board," Barry said.

Barry said he thought the county should thank GovHR for its work and move forward with offering Moreno the job.

"I think Wes sees his No. 1 job as implementing the direction from the board, implementing the strategies and the direction that the board has given in the best way that he can while being cognizant of taxpayer resources and what's good for public service," Barry said.

Three other commissioners said they supported Barry's proposal.

Commission Chairman Jeff Bergosh said the qualified candidates were largely from communities much smaller than Escambia County and he favored hiring Moreno for the position over a stranger.

"We know Wes Moreno," Bergosh said. "He's been here more than 30 years. This last year, I don't want to use an expletive, so I won't, but he's kicked butt."

Commissioner Lumon May said he still has concerns about the lack of contracts with small minority businesses and the lack of diversity in the county fire department but said he doesn't think there's a better person to get things done than Moreno.

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Commissioner Robert Bender said he thought Moreno had navigated the county through a tough year and now wants to see him take steps to address issues like flooding and stormwater management.

Commissioner Doug Underhill was the only commissioner who wanted to continue interviewing the other candidates. Underhill said Moreno told the board that he was not interested in taking the position permanently when the board appointed him interim administrator.

"Wes' service gave us the ability to do a nationwide search and get these candidates," Underhill said. "I believe that we should follow through with the strategy that we put in place."

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For his part, Moreno acknowledged he had said he would not apply for the county administrator position but said if the board wanted him to continue in the position, he would.

"I said I would not (apply), and I have not applied for the position," Moreno said. "I will say this, when you step into this role, you don't know what you don't know."

Moreno said when he was named interim administrator during a tumultuous time in the county.

He pointed out that the former budget director resigned in the middle of a budget cycle and he had to bring in help to finalize the 2022 budget. He said he was able to negotiate new bargaining agreements after talks stalled with the county's unionized workers, except for the transit workers, which are still in negotiations. He said he's also worked to fill vacancies in the county's Public Safety Department.

"I think across the county things are much better than (they) were 13 months ago or however long it's been," Moreno said.

A contract for Moreno to be named the new county administrator will be negotiated, including salary, and presented to the board for a final vote at a future meeting.

Jim Little can be reached at jwlittle@pnj.com and 850-208-9827.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Wes Moreno to be named permanent Escambia County administrator