Commissioners rescind offer to candidate fired in Florida

Mesa County commissioners Friday rescinded the county administrator job offer to former Florida executive Michael Freilinger.

They were unable to agree on salary terms or even whether the man whose previous work experience came under heavy scrutiny was their top choice.

Commissioners Craig Meis and Janet Rowland told The Daily Sentinel they wanted to hire Freilinger but decided not to turn the conditional offer extended two weeks ago into a final offer because Commissioner Steve Acquafresca didn’t support Freilinger.

Meis and Rowland were prepared to offer Freilinger a $140,000 annual salary, $15,000 more than former County Administrator Jon Peacock made, but Acquafresca balked.

“I still believe that (Freilinger) is the best candidate for the position, but I didn’t feel it was fair to the guy to hire him when one of his bosses doesn’t support hiring him,” Rowland said. “That sets him up for failure.”

Meis said he would have hired Freilinger, but the board didn’t reach a consensus on him.

“Considering you’ve only got (three) commissioners, if one is already opposed to you the day you walk in, that’s not good,” Meis said.

Acquafresca, who pushed for a $125,000 salary for Freilinger, denied Friday evening that the difference in pay was a deal-breaker for him. Asked what killed the deal, Acquafresca spoke in more general terms than Rowland and Meis.

“I think for all three of us it was probably a function of listening to a lot of input from our partners, our partners in the community, our staff, other community members and our own assessment from our interactions with the candidate,” he said.

Commissioners also appear divided on what to do next.

“Personally, I liked Mike Freilinger immensely. And I think he’s a fellow I could trust. But my recommendation to our board is that we return to our slate of candidates and refocus our attention on that slate,” Acquafresca said, referring to the other four finalists for the post.

Rowland, however, said she prefers to not fill the county administrator position and instead explore a system in which the commissioners run the day-to-day operations of the county, and department heads report directly to the board.

Freilinger said given the division within the board, the commissioners probably made the right decision in not hiring him. He said he wasn’t disappointed by it, but he acknowledged being “miffed” over commissioners’ differing over his salary and said he didn’t understand the county losing him over $15,000.

“I’m glad not to go into a place where I’ve got a commissioner complaining about how much they’re paying me,” he said. “I’ve got enough to worry about as a county manager beyond that.”

Freilinger’s proposed $140,000 salary, which was included in the conditional offer, was a source of discontent among some county employees. Several sent e-mails to the commissioners, questioning how they could justify offering a bump in compensation for the position when the county continues to lay off workers and maintain salary freezes to compensate for a decline in revenue.

Some employees were skeptical about Freilinger because he was fired seven months ago from his job as county manager in Osceola County, Florida.

Freilinger said while he understood employees’ pay concerns, he noted he was giving up roughly $100,000 in compensation. In Osceola County, Freilinger was making $219,000 a year, plus $30,000 in deferred compensation.

He said he almost didn’t apply for the Mesa County job to begin with because of the salary range, which was advertised at $120,000 to $140,000, and he said “there’s absolutely no way I would have considered” the job for $120,000.

“I’m sure there are managers out there who make less than that and would be eager to apply for a job at ($120,000),” he said. “But I doubt anybody with my experience and expertise would be.”

Rowland discounted employee discomfort with Freilinger playing a factor in the commissioners’ decision. “That’s not to diminish the opinions or value of staff. It’s not likely we’re going to have 100 percent agreement,” she said.

But she said some employees were basing their objection to Freilinger on erroneous data, and commissioners had more information about Freilinger and his background than they did.


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