Mesa County offers its top post to fired executive
Candidate lost Florida job over jail problems, worker morale
Mesa County tentatively has offered the county administrator job to a former county manager in Florida who was fired from that job earlier this year.
County Commissioner Craig Meis confirmed Wednesday the board instructed Human Resources Manager Sandy Perry to offer the job to former Osceola County Manager Michael Freilinger. The offer includes a $140,000 annual salary — $15,000 more than County Administrator Jon Peacock was making when he resigned in July — and $2,000 in compensation to cover moving expenses.
Meis said commissioners hope to bring Freilinger back to Mesa County as soon as possible this month to meet with the board, county department heads and business community leaders. If that meeting goes well, the county could attempt to reach a formal agreement with Freilinger.
Freilinger was one of five finalists for the post, along with former Vernon Township, N.J, Manager Melinda Carlton, Mesa County Regional Services Director Tom Fisher, Niagara County, N.Y., Manager Gregory Lewis and Colorado Springs land-development-company executive James Mullen.
Meis said commissioners chose Freilinger based on his experience as county manager in Florida and, prior to that, county administrator in Polk County, Iowa.
“For the most part, he was the one the board felt the most secure with or had the most confidence in,” Meis said.
He said he believes the county will benefit from Freilinger’s work in larger communities. Osceola County’s population stands at 270,000, while Polk County’s population is roughly 430,000, according to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
“I’m a big proponent of trying to promote from within, but I think it’s also important to get outside perspective,” Meis said.
Should the county and Freilinger fail to reach an agreement, Meis said commissioners would reach out to one of the other finalists, but declined to identify him or her.
The Orlando Sentinel reported Osceola County commissioners voted 3-2 to fire Freilinger in April, citing concerns about problems at the county jail and low employee morale. In Osceola County, the commissioners, rather than the sheriff, run the jail.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, there were two escapes and one attempted escape from the jail in less than a year. The jail’s corrections chief, who worked under Freilinger, resigned a week before Freilinger’s firing.
The newspaper reported that Osceola County Commission Chairman Fred Hawkins Jr. complained that Freilinger hired a number of new employees after laying many off the year before and didn’t maintain a good relationship with local governments and contractors.
Meis said commissioners were aware of Freilinger’s firing and discussed it with him during his initial visit last month. He said the county will conduct additional background checks on Freilinger.
“It didn’t raise our concern to the level that we didn’t feel he would be a good for fit for Mesa County,” Meis said.
“We recognize there’s a lot of politics in his position. Most county administrators are lucky to serve from anywhere from five to seven years with those politics.”
Reached Wednesday, Hawkins said he heard from numerous people when he was elected in 2008 that Freilinger should be fired but that he wanted to work with Freilinger.
“About 18 months into it, I realized Mike and I just had philosophical differences,” Hawkins said.
He said Freilinger was “sometimes more a sixth commissioner than he was the manager,” claiming he pushed his own agenda rather than carrying out the board’s directives. And he said, “Mike sometimes just didn’t tell us everything we should know.”
On the other hand, Hawkins referred to Freilinger as an “intelligent, well-organized man (who is) not afraid to make the tough decisions.”
He said as long as Freilinger and county commissioners are on the same page politically “anybody would be lucky to have him as their manager.”
Osceola County Commissioner John Quiñones, who voted against firing Freilinger, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
The Daily Sentinel’s attempts to contact Freilinger on Wednesday were unsuccessful.