Manager candidate gets counteroffer

Board also votes to retain Carlisle another month

GLADES COUNTY — After Glades County Board Chairman John Ahern related how his negotiations had gone with Joseph Helfenberger, two commissioners objected Tuesday to terms they’d arrived at for the interim manager candidate.

Mr. Helfenberger, now temporarily managing the tiny City of Archer (near Gainesville), had rejected Chairman Ahern’s offer of a $105,000 annual salary equivalent plus travel and housing allowances to take over the Glades County administration while the commissioners seek a new permanent manager. “He turned it down,” Mr. Ahern said, “so we went to the $110,000 that is in the contract” that County Attorney Richard Pringle, who was sitting in on the talks, was drawing up.

Living in St. Cloud, a city near Kissimmee that he managed from 2015 through last July, Mr. Helfenberger was receiving a travel allowance of $500 monthly plus a housing stipend of $700 a month from Archer, and asked for the same from Glades County. The term would be six months unless both parties decided to extend it or Mr. Helfenberger chose to apply for the permanent position. He would work for a probationary period of three months before receiving any fringe benefits, except for two days’ paid vacation time he requested.

Mr. Ahern told commissioners that “at our last meeting, we each had an opportunity to talk to Mr. Helfenberger … and voted to try to work out an employment agreement for the interim with him,” then the two met afterward to discuss possible terms. When “he didn’t accept that, I told him that I needed to think about it. It was a situation where I was trying to satisfy him and then at the same time make a decision for the whole board, which is quite a challenge. I waited for a day, then I called him back and I offered the $110,000, and he accepted it, so that was pretty much the history.”

Commissioner Donna Storter Long asked what salary range the board decided on to put in its advertisements for a permanent manager. Mr. Ahern replied that it was $100,000 to $120,000. She noted that the offer to Mr. Helfenberger would amount to more than the county had been paying Paul Carlisle, who left the county manager post April 27 but has been kept on as a part-time consultant.

Mr. Pringle explained the contract provisions and answered several questions about time tracking, evaluations, use of a county vehicle and termination scenarios.

Mrs. Long said, “When I interviewed him, I was extremely impressed. I think we all were. The only real negative was, he never intends to move to Glades County; he said he’d move to Fort Myers. And I think that is the reason that the cost is so much higher for our area in salary than it is anywhere else. In Marianna, they’re hiring one for $80,000, but they have amenities we don’t have.”

Mr. Ahern said he’d talked about Glades’ situation with Hendry County Administrator Charles Chapman, who is president-elect of the Florida Association of County Managers, “and that’s what he said, ‘We’re competing with the east coast and west coast.’ We’re competing with Fort Myers and West Palm and other areas where the cost of living and everything else is higher. That’s just the way it is.”

Commissioner Weston Pryor spoke up with a question. “If we’re going to pay housing, why do we pay travel? And if we’re going to pay travel, why do we pay housing?”

Mr. Ahern said he calculated what Mr. Helfenberger’s costs would be for travel and local accommodations, noting that he’d said if he got the job, he probably would drive to Moore Haven from his rented home in St. Cloud on Monday and return on Friday.

Commissioner Donald Strenth said he thought Mr. Helfenberger was seeking “an ungodly amount of money. This is the first man out of the gate … and I think his demands are pretty high.”

Chairman Ahern answered that “I think it was a unanimous decision to try to negotiate a contract with this man.” Mr. Strenth said the key word was “try.”

“Yes, and I have put forth the effort to try to do that. Now, if we need to do something different … well, that’s fine,” Mr. Ahern replied.

Commissioner Long said that in hindsight, she thought the board should have advertised for someone to fill the interim position. Mr. Strenth responded: “We can still operate until we can find somebody that can step in at what I’d call a decent rate. I think he just wants too much.”

Commissioner Tim Stanley asked, “Well, what would you consider a decent rate?”

Further discussion led to a consensus, and Mr. Stanley made a motion, seconded by Mr. Strenth, to offer Mr. Helfenberger the equivalent of a $100,000 annual salary with no extra allowances, with 72 hours to reply (until noon Friday, May 11) and to immediately advertise the interim position afterward if he declined the offer. The motion passed 5-0.

When Mr. Pringle noted that could leave the county without someone in charge leading up to its next few meetings, which would pose problems with important matters pending, the board then unanimously amended its agenda to consider extending Mr. Carlisle’s term as a part-time consultant, and then unanimously voted to tack another 30 days onto his contract.

The Glades County Democrat is published every Thursday.

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