After a search that lasted more than six months and cost thousands of taxpayer dollars, the top job in Beaufort County government is still not filled. And the process to do so is back to square one.
A contract with the company hired to find a replacement for longtime county administrator Gary Kubic — who retired last month after more than a decade leading the county — has been terminated and the search process is beginning again, according to county officials.
Following closed-door interviews earlier this month with three finalists for the administrator position, Beaufort County Council members were unable to come to a consensus on which candidate should be offered the job, Council Chairman Paul Sommerville said Monday.
“With 11 people on council, its difficult for everyone to agree on something,” he said.
Three finalists were selected from a group of roughly 50 applicants compiled by executive search firm Slavin Management Consultants.
According to invoices obtained by The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette, the county has paid more than $17,000 for the company’s services.
Despite calls from some in the community — including Kubic himself — to conduct the search process publicly, candidate discussions and interviews were held during a series of executive sessions rather than in public council meetings.
Sommerville said that despite the decision to end the contract, blame for the lack of results shouldn’t be shouldered exclusively by the consultant.
“You always hope that there is consensus (among the council members),” Sommerville said. “But sometimes that’s difficult to achieve.”
However, Councilman Rick Caporale said he “was never really satisfied with (the firm’s) performance” in bringing forth a large crop of a qualified candidates.
“I was perfectly happy to go back and start again” after the council interviewed the three finalists, he said.
In an email Monday afternoon, search firm president Robert Slavin declined to comment, referring all questions to the county.
Prior to the breakdown of the search, the County Council had identified current interim county administrator and Kubic’s former second-in-command Josh Gruber, former Richland County administrator William Anthony “Tony” McDonald, and Miami city manager Daniel Alfonso as finalists.
Sommerville said those candidates won’t necessarily be dismissed as the search process moves forward.
“We just want to take a look at some more candidates,” he said.
Gruber said Monday, “At this point I’m willing to do whatever is necessary” to secure the administrator position permanently.
“I can’t be frustrated or upset with the (search) process because it isn’t something I have control over,” he said.
Since April, Gruber has been a finalist for two city manager positions in Florida.
“I never want to forgo any opportunity,” he said. “But at this point in time, I don’t have any applications out there and I’m not pursuing any other employment.”
Following the failure to hire a new administrator, county leaders must chart a new path.
Sommerville said the council may look to the outside — perhaps an independent law firm — to help draft a new bid request lure a new search firm.
While it would be ideal to make a hire sooner rather than later, identifying the most qualified candidate available is key, he said.
Because Gruber and other experienced department heads are in place, “there is no sense of urgency or panic” to make an immediate hire.
The council is expected to make a decision on the hiring of a new search consultant before the end of the year.