Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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In a Surprise Move, the Columbia County 5 Name David Kraus as Interim County Manager

Photos: Columbia County Observer

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night, the Columbia County 5 named Assistant County Manager David Kraus as interim county manager. On Monday, County Manager Ben Scott surprised The 5 with his resignation, showing once again that Columbia County is full of surprises. Mr. Scott's resignation is effective on December 29.

The evening began innocently enough with Mr. Scott's annual October leave request on the consent agenda, as it is every year, making it an item that required no formal discussion.

Veteran County Commissioner Ronald Williams had the item pulled and inserted on the regular agenda for discussion.

When the item came up, things moved quickly, with Commissioner Williams making a motion: "I'd like to offer a motion, on the absence of Ben that we appoint David Kraus as interim to take his place while Ben is on leave and work with Ben leadin' up to his last days as our county coordinator."

Commissioner Rocky Ford seconded the motion.

Chairman Witt jumped right in, "I was surprised on Monday when I got notification that he [Mr. Scott] was resigning... You've done a heckuva job for us, and we're going to miss you."

County 5 Chairman Toby Witt listens to Commissioner Williams

Chairman Witt agreed that Mr. Kraus should be named as interim County Manager. He suggested that Mr. Scott work with Mr. Kraus for October, "and then kinda' pull back Ben into a consulting role and let Mr. Kraus kinda' fly on his own, and we have a six month period of time where we can see how this works. If this works, we hire a consulting firm to search for our new Assistant County Manager, because we've got our County manager."

The Chairman's suggestions met with some push-back.

Commissioner Williams said, "If David is going to move up into that position, what happens to all the work that he is doin', because he can't do both. It's very important -- what he is doin' now with economic development. David writes all the grants. He's in contact with helpin' Glenn Hunter [Economic Development Director] with these companies. Who takes that slack up?"

Commissioner Rocky Ford asked, "That would be part of the interim county manager's job, wouldn't it? He hires County staff."

Commissioner Williams answered, "There is no way he can do both jobs."

Chairman Witt told The 5, "I recall sittin' out in the audience when the concept of an assistant county manager was developed. It was developed just for the circumstance, so if you lost a county manager, you had somebody to step up."

This was not accurate

Commissioner Williams had concerns.

Commissioner Williams then gave his take about how the assistant county manager positions were developed. His characterization wasn't accurate, either.

Commissioner Williams' concluding remark was a warning to the County 5: "Will he [Mr. Kraus] have the ability to hire someone to do his job, because he cannot do both of em'. You're settin' it up to fail."

Commissioner Tim Murphy was also concerned, "I have to concur with Ron."

Asst. County Manager David Kraus listens before the vote.

Commissioner Murphy said when the time comes, Mr. Kraus or anybody could apply for the job.

He added, "I want this board to seek out and get the best opportunities for a new manager. We didn't really cover our bases here... I'm ready to go for it now. I talked to Ben -- he's gone."

Chairman Witt said he thought David [Kraus] "being interim would be a good way for us to see if he can do the job."

Commissioner Ford said, "Let's hear what Mr. Kraus has to say."

Mr. Kraus came to the microphone, "I'd like to say thank you. I'm honored. If you do choose to make me interim manager, I would request that you give us the luxury to meet, Ben, Kevin (the other assistant county manager), and I, and figure out what we need to do to make sure all our bases are covered. It's absolutely important that we don't drop the ball on any of the projects [economic development] that are out there."

Commissioner Nash recommending broadening the scope of the search.

Commissioner Nash weighed in, "I'm for getting applications from New York, Miami -- getting the Florida Association of Counties, the League of Cities -- it doesn't hurt to start the process and have their applications, and if this is not successful, instead of wasting three months, you've got people that have applied. I think that's what the taxpayers would want us to do. I don't think that this has anything to do with David's capabilities, I have all the faith in the world in him, but I think you have to look and see if there is a rock star out there who wants to come to Lake City, Florida."

Commissioner Nash continued, opining that it was the responsibility of the County's management team to set up the County in the best possible position for whoever is the next county manager.

Commissioner Williams followed up, "What we're doin' is we're givin' David a opportunity to prove himself. He got the upper hand... it's his job to keep, or his job to lose. It's just that simple."

Commissioner Tim Murphy

Commissioner Murphy added, "You're gonna' hire somebody in three months, whether you're hirin' a county manager, or you're hirin' an assistant county manager."

County Manager Scott: "A lot for one person to handle"

Mr. Scott told The 5, "What I heard is that you are a little concerned whether David could take on the workload of both jobs. That's a lot for one person to handle, but I will be here to the end of the year. I will be able to help David through the end of the year... I told David – I spoke with him, 'Look, it's sink or swim. It's up to you to rise up to the challenge.'"

Commissioner Williams Wants a Footnote on the County Manager Application

Commissioner Williams listened to the other members of The 5, then amended his motion. Commissioner Williams is the only Commissioner who has worn a mask at County Commission meetings.

Commissioner Williams was still concerned, "I don't want to wait 90 days, or 60 days, or six months, and have to start this process over again if David just won't work out. We can go ahead and do what we got to do, advertise and all of that and on the application we could put that footnote on it -- that the decision will be made within X amount of days; X amount of months, so when they apply for it, they know it's a not a decision we goin' to make tomorrow... We could start interviewin' if David don't work out."

Commissioner Williams amended his motion, "I'd like to amend my motion with David being interim, but we'll immediately start the process of advertisin' for qualified people to apply for the county manager position of Columbia County.

Before the vote, your reporter asked if the County was going to advertise with the Florida Association of Counties, the New York Times, and maybe get somebody from the business community to fill the position.

Mr. Nash said that was correct.

Your reporter questioned the "footnote," which says, "You've got a guy there now, who might have this job, and you're applying for nothing."

Chairman Witt explained, "We are going to advertise. We are going to name David interim county manager right now because you need somebody in that role, and Mr. Kraus will be one of the applicants if he makes that decision. Mr. Scott will still be employed in a consulting role."


After the meeting, your reporter asked Mr. Kraus, who is now responsible for most of the County's departments, if he wanted the permanent county manager position.

He said, "My background and my education have prepared me for this. I am prepared. I want this job."

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