County Administrator Baird to remain at post with 3-year contract

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Indian River County Administrator Joe Baird will remain at his post as the county’s “CEO” with a new 3-year contract that keeps his salary at $180,000 but caps his sick and vacation time.

Baird told commissioners that his proposed contract would cut down the amount severance and notice he would get in the event he were terminated. “Understanding the environment we’re in, I’ve reduced those things,” Baird said prior to the commissioners discussing the contract.

Instead of the 10-month severance he would be paid and the 90-day notice he’d receive, Baird would get a 5-month severance and 30-day notice.

The concessions on his part were not enough for a couple commissioners, who voted against approving the contract.

To a one, each commissioner praised Baird for the leadership he has shown and the work he has done for the county.

Commissioner Gary Wheeler told Baird and the audience that his comments should not be construed as an attack.

Wheeler said that he would have rather seen a 1-year contract and a contract more in line with what other employees get. He explained that as the county administrator, Baird serves at the will of the Board of County Commissioners. By doing so, Baird gives up “property rights” that non-at-will employees have.

Wheeler said that the contract Baird has ends up being better than what his property rights would have allowed.

He and Commissioner Joe Flescher voted against approving the contract.

Flescher told the board that he agreed with most of what Wheeler had said.

Flescher reminded the board that they recently sent a letter to the legislators in Tallahassee voicing support for having the flexibility to change their salaries.

“We have to start at the top,” he said of setting an example for staff to follow. “Joe’s the chief, the CEO.”

Baird defended his proposed contract, reminding the board of his past accomplishments of keeping the county running after the hurricanes of 2004, reducing the budget, keeping property taxes low, among others.

“The contract is what you need to get a true professional on the job,” Baird said, later adding, “I run this county” and that he is proud of the job he has been doing.

Baird also told the commission that if they were to curtail his contract, his assistants would have better than contracts than his, which would be awkward.

Commissioner Peter O’Bryan led the charge to approve Baird’s contract, noting that the latest version has eliminated some of the “golden parachutes.”

Severance had gone from 12 months to 10 and now to five, O’Bryan said. And Baird’s notice went from 90 days to 30.

He did call on his fellow commissioners to revisit the county policy on the accrual of vacation time. Prior to the new contract, Baird could bank an unlimited amount of vacation time that could be paid out in the event he left his post as county administrator.

General county employees can accrue 75 days, which commissioners imposed on Baird’s new contract.

“We can’t be in a better position,” O’Bryan said, speaking of the county. “I attribute that to the leadership of the administrator.”

Wheeler attempted to approve Baird’s contract with modifications that would have allowed the 3-year term, removed the county’s contribution to a deferred compensation fund, made it a choice of receiving a pay-out of sick time or receiving five month’s severance, and following the county’s policy in accruing sick time.

“I think Mr. Baird is worth every penny,” Wheeler said.

His motion died for lack of a second commissioner’s support.

O’Bryan recommended approving the contract essentially as-is with the limit on sick time and tying vacation accrual to county policy.

“We have pinched and cut” where they could in Baird’s contract, Commissioner Wesley Davis said. “It’s a step in the right direction.”

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