New commission chair Lober seeks top officials’ succession plans

When Brevard County government’s top executives approach retirement in coming years, new County Commission Chair Bryan Lober doesn’t want to scramble for their successors.

Rather, he said last week, he plans to urge County Manager Frank Abbate, County Attorney Eden Bentley, Human Resources Director Jerry Visco and others to plan their succession now.

“There are several senior executives on staff now who are not going to be there in five years,” he said. “I want to see plans. Do we promote someone in-house? If not, how do we plan to advertise these positions?

“I don’t want us (commissioners) to be in the position of having to pay lots of money to an outside consultant to find someone fast.”

Lober, 35, a Rockledge attorney, spoke Nov. 21 in his Merritt Island office, two days after his fellow commissioners, all Republican, voted 5-0 to promote him from vice chair to the new chair for 2020.

Lober was elected last year to the commission’s District 2 seat, representing arguably the county’s best-known areas for outsiders, such as Kennedy Space Center, Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral, Port Canaveral, most of Merritt Island and parts of Patrick Air Force Base.

The commission chair’s role is similar to that of a mayor in Melbourne, Indialantic and other cities that employ a manager for day-to-day administration. Commission policy calls for the chair to run commission meetings, execute ordinances and agreements and otherwise act as chief legislator.

The chair can steer discussions into new areas of county business, but can’t make the motions to enact it. That is, unless the chair slides the gavel over to the vice chair to conduct the vote.

As chair, Lober succeeds District 5 Commissioner Kristine Isnardi of Palm Bay, who represents the Indialantic area as part of her district.

“I hope to do as well as she (Isnardi) did in the past year,” Lober said. “I want to make sure we do the county’s business as needed with as little distraction as possible.”

It’s unclear if Lober was referring to the arrest of Isnardi’s husband David Isnardi on felony charges during her tenure as chair, or if the comment was general in nature. But the irony is that Lober’s critics say Lober provided more than his share of distraction from county business for much of 2019. He exchanged venomous posts on Facebook with a host of mostly Democratic critics who spanned from Brevard County to Great Britain.

Lober always insisted his election didn’t end his First Amendment right to free speech. Political observers, however, argued his public office called for more discretion when responding to what he called his “dogpile” of critics – if at all.

Outside of Facebook, Lober exchanged most of the heat during commission meetings with Stacey Patel, chair of the Brevard County Democratic Executive Committee.

In fact, Patel took to Facebook after Lober’s promotion to chair.

“My heart hurts for this community,” she wrote. “A military brat who’s wandered far and wide, I went to high school at Satellite like my mom before me, and I’d hoped I’d made my home here.

“But on days like today it doesn’t feel like home at all.”

Patel, however, didn’t attend the Nov. 19 meeting to try to persuade Lober’s colleagues to not choose him as chair. And she couldn’t be reached later to explain why.

For Lober’s vice chair, meanwhile, he nominated District 1 Commissioner Rita Pritchett, of Titusville. Her district covers the county’s northernmost end.

Commissioners gave Pritchett a similar 5-0 vote, setting her up to be the 2021 chair – three years after her prior stint with the gavel.

In nominating Pritchett as vice chair, Lober appeared at first to be snubbing District 3 Commissioner John Tobia, who was elected in 2016 and hasn’t yet served as chair or vice chair.

But in fact, Tobia said, he made it clear to Lober before the 2018 general election that he wouldn’t want the job.

“We talked, back when he wasn’t yet covered by the (Florida Government-in-the) Sunshine Law,” Tobia said. “I made him agree not to have me be chair or vice chair.”

Tobia, of Palm Bay, represents a district that includes a stretch of Brevard County’s barrier island from Melbourne Beach south to the Sebastian Inlet.

Tobia, a former state representative, said the commission chair’s role differs from that of the Florida House speaker. The commission chair can’t control the agenda, he said, but merely is a procedural role.

“I’m not interested in procedure whatsoever,” Tobia said. “I’m more interested in the legislation.”

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