Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Commissioners to pick new county administrator this week

Three candidates remain in the running

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County Commissioners have a lot of decisions to make this week. First, they have to decide if they will keep the position of operations manager or merge it with another one, possibly the county administrator. Then, they have to decide who should fill those positions.

"All options are on the table," Commissioner Larry Schoen said. "Right now we have divergent views on the board."

Three final candidates are in the running for county administrator: current interim County Administrator Charlene Nelson; Robert Jasper of Grand Junction, Colo.; and Derek Voss of Boise.

Today the two visiting finalists arrived for interviews. This evening the three candidates and their spouses will be guests at a public reception at Chester and Jake's in Hailey from 5-7 p.m.

On Thursday each candidate will participate in two half-hour-long interviews, one with the Board of Commissioners and the other with department heads and other elected officials. Following the interviews, the interviewers will have a closed-door discussion before the commissioners hold an executive session to determine which positions will remain and who will fill them.

Nelson has been serving as interim administrator since the end of February, when former Administrator Mike McNees stepped down to take a job elsewhere. Prior to that, she served as operations and special projects manager for Blaine County. Nelson has two master's degrees, one in education from the University of Washington and one in counseling.

She has spent the vast majority of her career working in education in Washington. She first came to the valley on a family backpacking trip four years ago. The family fell in love with the place, but thought they could never make a living here. Last year her husband took a job in the area, allowing the family to relocate.

Nelson believes her being a resident of the area is an added bonus.

"I am familiar with the issues that face the county currently," Nelson said. "And I know the community, and I know the organization."

Jasper has worked extensively in county government since 1976. Most recently he served as interim county administrator for Achuleta County, Colo. Prior to that, he was county administrator in Mesa County, Colo., for 10 years. He also served as assistant county administrator in Washoe County, Nev.

"I've been in three counties where tourism and ski areas were an important part of the economy, as well as ranching and farming," Jasper said. " I like that kind of world."

Jasper holds a master's degree in public administration from the University of California at Riverside.

Voss is director of administrator services and the chief risk officer for Ada County. As director of risk management for Ada County, he transitioned the workers' compensation program from fully insured to self insured, saving the county more than $300,000 annually.

Voss' said his interest in the job stems from his love of Idaho and public service.

"In response to September 11th, I wanted to find a way to give back, but I was too old to get back into the military," he said. "Public service was the way to give back for me, and I just really enjoy being more a part of the community instead of being more corporate."

Voss has a master's degree in management from Florida State University and served as a nuclear weapons specialist for the United States Air Force from 1977-1981.

Schoen said he is pleased with the final candidates.

"I think they're excellent," he said. "We had an excellent group of candidate submissions. I might even say that some were overqualified."

Schoen did admit that the pool was a little smaller than intended.

"If the budget were different, we might have brought in other candidates," he said. "But we're mindful of the expensive nature of this process."

Schoen also admitted that he prefers candidates from the West, as he thinks that is essential to understanding the cultural, legislative and economic climate of the area. He also said not flying in candidates from the East saved the county money in airfare and lodging.

Schoen said that while he could not comment for the other commissioners, the final candidates all fit his geographic criterion.

The commissioners stated that they hope to have a decision by Thursday, or Friday at the latest.

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