County commissioners talk of talented staff in Office of County Attorney and value of institutional knowledge
With Sarasota County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht having announced late last month that he plans to retire later this year, County Commission Chair Ron Cutsinger this week initiated a discussion about whether his colleagues wanted to pursue a national search or promote someone from within the Office of the County Attorney.
On a unanimous vote on a motion made by Commissioner Nancy Detert, the response was direction to County Administrator Jonathan Lewis that the board members prefer an internal process.
Cutsinger brought up the issue during his report to his colleagues as part of their regular meeting on March 7, referencing Elbrecht’s Feb. 22 comments about his plans to leave his position in June, most likely.
“Obviously,” Cutsinger singer added, “time is short, and we need to move forward on this.”
Commissioner Joe Neunder replied, “I’ve given this quite a bit of thought, actually. … My interests lie in keeping it internal. Institutional knowledge of our organization is important. I think we have the talent pool here,” he added, “to go ahead and do the application process …”
Neunder suggested the board members could conduct one-on-one interviews with candidates to replace Elbrecht.
Then Commissioner Michael Moran joked about the fact that he would prefer not to be having the discussion at all. Eliciting laughter, Moran said, “I’d like to publicly shame Rick as much as possible.”
Cutsinger said he would agree to that motion.
Taking a serious tack next, Moran pointed out that if the internal search did “not go as planned,” then the commissioners could consider undertaking an external search for candidates for the position of county attorney.
Detert agreed with both Neunder and Moran. “I think it really goes smooth if you do promote from within,” she said, “because you do have somebody who already knows your community.” Moreover, she indicated, if the commission hired someone from outside the area, that person likely would want to bring on board other attorneys with whom the individual has been working.
“Thanks to the leadership over in [the Office of the County Attorney] over the past few years,” Detert continued, “I think we probably have enough talented people there to choose from without doing a nationwide search” or hiring a consultant to assist with such a process.
“I completely agree,” Cutsinger responded.
Then, when Cutsinger asked County Administrator Lewis if he needed a motion from the commissioners for the record, Lewis said, “A motion would always be preferred.”
After Detert made the motion, and Neunder seconded it, it passed 5-0.