published: Friday, October 26, 2012
Fisher hired as county administrator
By BARRY FOSTER
Special to the News-Sun
SEBRING - Former assistant county administrator June Fisher took over the job on a full-time basis Wednesday morning. She was vaulted into the position following a vote Tuesday night, when a 4-1 majority of Highlands County commissioners ignored requests to scale back her contract offer in light of a pressing budget year.
Commissioner Don Elwell supported the choice of Fisher, but raised a number of concerns ranging from terms of her severance package to her salary.
Elwell first questioned a generous 20-week severance package noting it was more than previous administrator Rick Helms. When reminded that there would be one week deducted each year to a total of 10 weeks, Elwell responded that the previous two administrators didn't last but two years after glowing recommendations for the job.
Further, Elwell said his conversations with Fisher indicated that she wished to retire in five or six years.
Commissioner Barbara Stewart asked Fisher if that was true.
"I will be eligible for retirement in five years," Fisher replied.
County Attorney Ross Macbeth then added that Fisher would not be entitled to the severance package unless she was terminated without cause as was the case with the two previous administrators.
Elwell then suggested commissioners consider a 90-day severance package combined with a provision that the termination of the county administrator require a super-majority - at least four of the five votes on the commission.
A consensus of commissioners then agreed they didn't like Elwell's suggestion.
Fisher's salary and benefit package was bumped to $116,000 just 18 months ago when she became the assistant county administrator. Elwell asked other commissioners if they might consider just a 10 percent raise. That would have started her at $128,000 annually versus the proposed $139,000 including $5,000 in deferred compensation.
The suggestion came with an eye toward phasing in increases over the next few years based on performance.
"We paid our last administrator $135,000," commissioner Barbara Stewart said. "After looking at Ms. Fisher's credentials, I think $134,000 is reasonable."
Commissioner Greg Harris was quick to agree with commissioner Ron Handley indicating he was "good with the way it was written."
Elwell's final suggestion that the contract reference her performance of the duties detailed in the job description also was shot down, with Stewart laughing at the idea that the "CEO of the county," as she put it, would even need a a job description.
Before casting the lone negative vote to name Fisher as county administrator, Elwell emphasized his problem was not with her ability to do the job but in trying to find a balance between fairly compensating the administrator and protecting taxpayer dollars.
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