Helfenberger accepts Glades County interim manager post

Commissioners pushed forless-costly deal after Long sent salary comparison

GLADES COUNTY — Ahead of the Glades County Board’s regular meeting on Tuesday, May 8, Commissioner Donna Storter Long had sent out an email blast to her constituents late that Sunday meant to alert them about “How your tax dollars (are) being spent.”

She was drawing their attention to item No. 12 on the agenda for last week’s meeting, which was consideration of an “interim county manager employment agreement with Joseph Helfenberger.” Possibly because of the statistics she shared in that communication, Glades County has ended up getting a much better deal than might have been expected with Mr. Helfenberger. Later that night, he accepted an ultimatum made directly and unanimously by the county commissioners that was intended to be their last and best offer.

The commissioners that morning had decided to play a little hardball with the county manager candidate, who initially had rejected Board Chairman John Ahern’s offer of a $105,000 annual salary equivalent plus Mr. Helfenberger’s requested travel and housing allowances amounting to $1,200 a month — instead pressing for $110,000 plus those perks.

The five commissioners voted 5-0 to tell him they’d pay $100,000, tops, and without the extra money for travel and accommodations. Mr. Helfenberger accepted later that day and will start as interim county manager on Tuesday, May 29.

Mrs. Long had said in her email, “Here’s a recap of recent discussions about proposing interim county manager salary: Paul Carlisle began with Glades County (in) January 2014 at the salary of $100,000 per year. He left (in) April 2018 with a salary of $123,000 that included the amount of half his insurance premiums that he did not need, but chose cash instead. That equals $10,250 per month.”

Her email stated that a per-month equivalent of $10,367 had originally been proposed for Mr. Helfenberger (Mr. Ahern’s initial offer), plus a travel allowance of $500 and a housing allowance of $700 (for a total of $11,567 monthly).

Commissioner Long’s email pointed out: “Jackson County recently hired an interim county administrator for $6,666 per month or $80,000 per year. Jackson County is larger (population 48,600) and richer (ad valorem tax levy $11,979,083) than Glades County.” Glades County’s population is listed as 12,853 and its annual ad valorem tax levy at $5.3 million.

Finally, Mrs. Long reproduced a couple of unattributed charts that gave comparisons ranking “18 of the poorest counties in Florida for which data was available in October 2017, first displaying a focused comparison with rural counties of DeSoto, Hardee, Hendry and Okeechobee.”

That chart said Glades ranked 17th of the 18 in population and 16th in the amount of ad valorem (property) tax levied but second-highest of the 18 in county manager salary by dollar amount.

The second chart showed that the Glades manager’s salary, on a per-capita basis by population, made him the top-paid of any in the 18 counties, costing each citizen $9.57 a year.

Hendry County Administrator Charles Chapman’s $124,630 salary, by comparison, ranked 11th on the per-capita list (Hendry’s population is roughly triple that of Glades County), costing each Hendry resident only $3.27 a year.

Commissioner Long later explained to the newspaper that she was giving constituents information they’d been requesting in telephone calls and messages. She said, “Protecting Glades County’s interests is always my primary goal,” then added:
“Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and take a calculated financial risk for ‘return on investment’; other times, you have to put on the brakes when your champagne appetite exceeds your beer budget. I truly appreciate all the response and input I have received from my constituents, and especially those who pray for our decisions.”

She didn’t have to cite any of this information to sway her colleagues’ eventual decision at the meeting May 8, but in an interview that Friday, May 11, she said it might well have done just that, giving them ammunition to be a little tougher in response to Mr. Helfenberger’s demand.

Mrs. Long said that because of Sunshine Law considerations, when she does forward such information to her colleagues, she includes a note saying “Do Not Reply” because that would be illegal, outside-public-meeting discourse about an item of county business likely to come up before the county board. Instead, she said, some of her constituents often forward such informational emails on to her fellow commissioners and ask them to explain.

The Glades County Democrat is published every Thursday.

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