O’Bryan passed by for interim county administrator

Commissioner Peter O'Bryan speaks at a county commission meeting July 14, 2020 discussing the possibility of a mandatory mask mandate in Indian River County. PHOTO BY KAILA JONES

Retiring County Commission Chairman Peter O’Bryan will not serve as the interim county administrator after he leaves office.

The other four commissioners voted unanimously last week to postpone any further discussion of the search for an interim administrator until former sheriff Deryl Loar is sworn in to replace O’Bryan on Tuesday.

The vote came in the meeting’s opening minutes, after Commissioner Joe Flescher made a motion to remove the item from the agenda.

By tabling the discussion – and delaying their decision – the commissioners effectively spiked O’Bryan’s application for the job, because, if hired, he needed to notify the Florida Retirement System that he was rescinding his scheduled retirement date.

Instead, O’Bryan, 65, said he will retire on Monday as planned.

He said he wasn’t disappointed, but he was surprised by the timing of Flescher’s motion and the commissioner’s unwillingness to even address the pitch he made for the position two weeks ago.

“I didn’t see it coming,” O’Bryan said in a phone interview after the meeting. “To pull it from the agenda before we got to it? I was surprised they didn’t at least allow discussion on it. I think if we got to it and discussed it, I had an even chance.

“But if any of the commissioners wanted me to do it, they would’ve said, ‘Let’s discuss it,’ and that didn’t happen,” he added. “So I guess they all decided they want to do something else.”

Outgoing County Administrator Jason Brown, 48, announced last month that he planned to resign from his $211,000-plus position effective Dec. 31. He has served in that position since 2016, when he was promoted from budget director to replace Joe Baird, who retired.

At its Nov. 8 meeting, the commission voted 4-1 to spend up to $35,000 to hire an executive recruiting firm to conduct a national search for Brown’s successor.

Flescher, elected this year to a fifth term, cast the lone opposing vote. He urged the commission to interview and evaluate any in-house applicants before embarking on a national search that could take up to six months and produce an administrator he said would need time to understand what makes the county special.

The commissioners then each put forth a wish list of attributes they’ll seek in a new administrator.

When they concluded their discussion, O’Bryan asked the commissioners whether they should also talk about the interim administrator’s position or wait until the next meeting.

Commissioner Susan Adams quipped, “Well, you’re retiring …”

O’Bryan seized on the opening to announce that he not only had considered the position, but that he already had discussed it with his wife and the county’s human resources director.

He went on to make his case for the job, citing the experience he gained during his 16 years as commissioner, his institutional knowledge of the county and its operations, and his relationships with department heads and their staffs.

He also argued that having an interim manager “who has no interest in the job on a long-term basis” would enhance the county’s search for a new administrator – because applicants would know they’re not competing against someone already doing the job and that the position is truly open.

The other commissioners seemed to embrace the idea, and further discussion was placed on the agenda for last week’s meeting.

Five minutes into the meeting, however, Flescher made his motion to remove discussion of the interim position, saying the matter should be postponed until Loar could participate in the decision.

“When I made the motion to pull the item, nobody questioned it – not even Peter,” Flescher said.

“There’s no reason to rush through this, and Deryl should be involved in the decision, since he’ll be working with the interim administrator.

“We already have an assistant county administrator who has been in that position for a lot of years and could step up,” he added. “We also have directors and a county attorney.”

Assistant County Administrator Mike Zito, 58, is an attorney who has worked for the county for more than 20 years, including the past 17 in his current job. He was a finalist for the Indian River Shores town manager’s position before former Undersheriff and Sheriff’s Office attorney Jim Harpring was hired in April 2021.

Dylan Reingold has served as county attorney for the past nine years.

Flescher said he wasn’t opposed to considering O’Bryan for the temporary position, but he didn’t want to eliminate other possible candidates, including some already working for the county.

“I just didn’t understand why we weren’t going to consider all applicants,” he added. “There are some people in this building with years of experience and the institutional knowledge to lead a staff of nearly 1,000. So, if we’re going to have a conversation, we should look at all of the possibilities.

“It’s an interim position, but we don’t know how long the search for a permanent administrator will take, and we still want to get work done.”

Adams said she believes O’Bryan “would’ve done a good job” as the interim administrator, but she agreed that Loar should participate in the discussion and decision.

She said she doesn’t know which direction the commissioners will go in hiring an interim administrator, but she wants to address the matter soon.

“Part of my thought process is: How long is the search for a new administrator going to take?”

Adams said. “Are we just putting an interim in there to babysit? Or will that person be there longer and need to make decisions that will impact the long term?

“I’d love to have a new administrator hired by the end of March, but that might be wishful thinking,” she added. “The process is going to take time, and the holidays are right around the corner. It could us take longer than we expect.”

If so, the interim administrator likely will be required to do much more than fill Brown’s chair.

“I’ve said all along I didn’t want the job, and my wife didn’t want me to apply for it, but that I would postpone my retirement and make myself available if the commissioners wanted me to fill in,” O’Bryan said.

“So there are no hard feelings,” he added. “The commissioners did what they felt they needed to do, and I’m good with it. We’ll start our retirement in early December.”

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