Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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County Commission News

One Candidate Stood Above the Rest
One Question Gave It All Away

Columbia County Florida (posted June 5, 2008)
By Stew Lilker

At the conclusion of the interviews for Columbia County’s new Public Works Director, DaleCounty Manager, Dale Williams, said that it was obvious that there was one standout from each day. Even more obvious was the reason they stood out. 

After carefully observing the interview process as well as the resumes and applications of the applicants, it was clear that there was one applicant from day one and indeed both days, that stood miles above the rest for his experience, professionalism, management skills and knowledge – Marcel “Bo” Beauchemin, a professional in every way. 

The Good Old Boys

Hiring someone for his experience and integrity instead of for his ties to the “Good Old Boys” would certainly be a plus for Columbia County’s residents, as well as the Public Works Department. Many have told the Observer – “Don’t count on it. It will never change.” 

Day two’s applicants were a likeable group. Ron Barlow, the retired City Engineer of Gainesville would have been perfect for the County Engineer slot, if there was one, but in spite of their denials, the county fathers really don’t want to find and hire a County Engineer, preferring instead to sub out the work to their well-connected friends. But that is a story for another day. 

While the brass of the county directed Human Resources to go through the motions, many folks weren’t buying it. One would have thought that with 1800 miles of roads the County Commission would have demanded a nationwide search to fill the position. Instead, Human Resources, besides placing the notice on the county web site, advertised the position only twice in the local newspaper.  

The word on the street was that it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway, because since the beginning of the year the Public Works Director slot had been silently earmarked for one of the “Good Old Boys” from the well-connected folks at Anderson Columbia, a major player in the paving of Florida.

One county employee told the Observer, “It didn’t hurt that the candidate was a really good friend of the county manager’s best friend, Sam Ousterhaudt.”

Kevin Kirby seemed like a nice enough chap, but his resume was thin in comparison to that of Mr. Beauchemin and his performance at the interview was certainly less than stellar. 

The contracted outside county engineer, John Colson, who Mr. Kirby used as a reference, should have walked away from the table when it came time to grade Mr. Kirby. Instead, Mr. Colson unsurprisingly gave Mr. Kirby high marks.

That Funky Question 

The interviewees were all asked the same questions by the county manager. But there was one question that threw all the candidates for a loop save one, Mr. Beauchemin. 

The question:  How would you handle a County Commissioner telling you to pave a private road for his largest campaign contributor? 

For a moment, Mr. Beauchemin seemed genuinely surprised by the question, laughed as if he was not sure the question was serious and then answered, “That would be real easy to do. I’d say sorry sir, but state law doesn’t allow the paving of private roads.” 

Mr. Kirby, as well as the rest of the candidates, save Mr. Barlow, didn’t seem all that surprised and all deferred to the county manager to handle the problem. 

Mr. Kirby said:  I would first of all ask him to re-think that question; If he persisted with that question, one is it legal; two, is it prioritized; three is it budgeted. And if he persisted, once again, for lack of better knowledge of the way county government works, I think the county manager would be [the one] to address that. 

Mr. Williams, the County Manager, made a joke of the whole thing. He said, “You see, you all wonder why I get paid more.”

Most Employees and Residents Really Don’t Like What They See Going On 

One county employee, speaking under the condition of anonymity, told the Observer, “You do what’s right. And this county just doesn’t have a forte for that. There’s more of I’ll do for you if I can get something in return.” 

The Observer asked, “What do they get?” 

The answer, “It could be a new TV gets delivered to their house. Those kinds of thing are untraceable. It doesn’t have to be money. It could be trips -- all sorts of stuff. Who better to do that than a friend?” 

The Observer asked one Columbia County native, “Why would Mr. Kirby go from making $140,000 dollars a year to a salary in the eighties?” 

The answer (name withheld), “It’s obvious. You take the money out of one pocket and someone puts it in the other side.”

The jury is still out on the Public Works Director.


Links to Documents

The Questions

Marcel Beauchemin

Kevin Kirby