Growth is hot topic of Q&A

Finalists for county administrator are grilled on management issues. The commission expects to make a decision today.

Published June 20, 2006

INVERNESS - Commissioners peppered finalists for the county's top administrative job with many questions Monday, but one issue was clearly at the forefront of their minds: growth and how to manage it.

A one-hour interview before the five county commissioners was scheduled for each candidate, but most of the interviews lasted for less than 40 minutes. Commissioners said they planned to save the bulk of their questions for the private, one-on-one meetings with the candidates scheduled for today.

The commission is slated to deliberate and make its final choice at a special meeting at 2 p.m. today in the Citrus County Courthouse, 110 N Apopka Ave, Inverness.

Monday's interviews were the first opportunity for commissioners to meet face-to-face with finalists who they had previously only encountered on paper. They grilled candidates on their experience dealing with growth.

Lyndon Bonner, 53, who has applied for several other administrative positions in the county, including the assistant county administrator and director of community services posts, told commissioners he was a perfect fit for the position.

"This is where my future is," he said, detailing his recent experience in the growing city of Bunnell as an example of his ability to handle the challenges of growth.

Anthony J. Carson Jr., 47, who currently serves as county administrator in Trumbull County, Ohio, said he was neither familiar with the term concurrency nor with Florida's Growth Management Act.

But he said the job appealed to him because of the warm weather and because commissioners have "done a very good job of making Citrus County a good place to do business."

And he said he would learn the details of Florida's growth regulations before he started as county administrator here.

Shane Crawford, 28, who currently serves as deputy county administrator in Walworth County, Wis., said he is involved in "smart growth" initiatives there and regularly deals with the challenge of balancing the pressures of development with existing infrastructure.

Charles C. Saddler III, 49, who currently serves as acting town manager in Dundee, said he has extensive experience dealing with growth in the Sunshine State and across the country.

"We have growth management, Florida-style. It is not as restrictive as many other parts of the nation," he said, noting that he's dealt with everything from developments of regional impact to basic zoning changes.

Michael L. Stampfler, 56, who spent most of his career working in Michigan, served as city manager in Casselberry for five months. He resigned this year in the wake of waning political support. But he said the brief experience had given him a useful crash course in Florida's growth management laws.

Commissioners for the most part refrained from commenting on candidates' backgrounds beyond their basic questions. But several noted the extensive experience of Marsha Segal-George, 53, who is currently serving as the deputy director of economic development for the city of Orlando.

"You have a very, very impressive resume," Commissioner Jim Fowler told Segal-George. "You've already been involved in every area of government and growth that we're facing."

Commissioner Joyce Valentino, Commissioner Vicki Phillips and Commission Chairman Gary Bartell also complimented Segal-George on her interview responses and her experience.

Commissioners were particularly interested in Segal-George's experience in Lee County, where she was administrator from 1988 to 1991.

The end of her tenure there was mired in controversy and legal battles, with allegations of commission misconduct, but Citrus commissioners did not discuss the details of her firing Monday.

Valentino asked her how she would go about managing growth in Citrus.

Segal-George said one of the first items on her agenda would be to schedule a goal-setting meeting with commissioners to discuss growth management. She said that in Lee County, commissioners said they wanted controlled growth but did not take the necessary step to achieve that goal.

"It was like a mantra, but nothing was done to make that happen," she said.

Utilities, transportation and technology also came up repeatedly during the interviews. And commissioners stressed the importance of working well - both with elected with commissioners and the public.

"You need a suit of armor here," Valentino told Stampfler during his interview. "Even though we would prefer that things not be political, everything is political."

Consultant Tom Freijo of the Mercer Group culled together the list of finalists from 32 applications for the job. Commissioners could also choose to re-advertise the position or select an internal candidate for the job today.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this story. Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at cshoichet@sptimes.com or 860-7309.