Monday, January 27, 2020

New St. Johns County administrator took an ‘unorthodox’ path to the top. (SAR)

The thick plottens.  SHERIFF DAVID SHOAR the author of the coverup of the murders of Michelle O'Connell and Eli Washtock supported HUNTER S. CONRAD's appointment as  County Administrator.

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This decision stinks on ice.

Dull Republicans have no shame -- they violated Sunshine, Open Records and anti-discrimination laws.  No women or minorities were considered.  My Sunday St. Augustine Record column is here.

The St. Augustine Record reports:

New St. Johns County administrator took an ‘unorthodox’ path to the top

Acting St. Johns County Administrator Hunter Conrad stands before the St. Johns County Commission before being offered the position of permanent county administrator on Tuesday. [PETER WILLOTT/THE RECORD]

By Sheldon Gardner
Posted Jan 25, 2020 at 5:31 PM

Hunter Conrad took the reins of St. Johns County government late last year as interim county administrator and was recently offered the permanent position after about a month on the job.

Conrad acknowledged that he’s had an “unorthodox” career thus far, one that led him from working at a church to taking over the top government position in St. Johns County.

“I’m very appreciative for the opportunities that I’ve been given,” Conrad said. “But I believe 100%, and I would say this in front of all 270,000 citizens, that God has opened the doors for me and allowed me to be in positions. And now he can close those doors tomorrow. But that’s why I constantly use the word humbled and honored because I recognize that these are great positions of authority, and with great responsibility comes great expectation.”

In November, commissioners unanimously voted to fire former County Administrator Michael Wanchick, who held the position for more than 12 years and led the county through the Great Recession.

Commissioner Jeremiah Blocker said he’d lost confidence in Wanchick’s ability to carry out the Commission’s will, and he suggested Conrad as the interim replacement.

Conrad had no prior experience as a county administrator. He accepted the job after leaving his position as the St. Johns County clerk of court and comptroller. He started as administrator in mid December and was offered the job permanently Tuesday.

Conrad, 33, said going into government wasn’t always part of his plan.

Now living in St. Johns County with his wife and children, he moved here with his family from Levy County when he was 9 or 10 years old.

He earned an accounting degree from North Greenville University, a Christian university in South Carolina, and began working as an accountant for the church Turning Point at Calvary in St. Johns County while he went to law school.

He said his father, the church’s Senior Pastor Mark Conrad, is his closest and most significant mentor.

Conrad became a prosecutor in Putnam County, handling everything from simple theft to attempted murder cases. He switched to private practice and worked for Canan Law, a firm in St. Johns County.

Around that time, he started seeking advice from mentors about his future.

“And one of the things mentioned to me by one of my mentors was, ‘I think there will be an opportunity in the future to be the clerk and comptroller,’” he said.

From there, he networked and built connections in the community, he said.

In September 2015, St. Johns County Clerk of Court and Comptroller Cheryl Strickland retired, leaving her elected office open.

George Lareau, who had been the chief deputy clerk for 19 years, stepped in to fill Strickland’s role temporarily and applied to Gov. Rick Scott to serve the remainder of her term. Strickland had recommended Lareau for the position.

Yet Scott chose Conrad in October 2015. Among Conrad’s supporters were St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar, who sent a letter of support for both Conrad and Lareau, and then St. Johns County School District Superintendent Joe Joyner.

Conrad won the next election to stay in office as clerk.

“The election was through hard work,” Conrad said. “But I certainly believe that that is because God either caused it to happen or allowed it to happen. I don’t know which one.”

Conrad said his immediate goal after taking on the interim county administrator role was to have a smooth transition by communicating openly and clearly with commissioners and staff.

“To provide continuity so the ball doesn’t get dropped,” he said.

After two major resignations following Wanchick’s firing — Darrell Locklear, an assistant county administrator, and Stacey Stanish, director of personnel — Conrad held a meeting with department heads.

″(It) was, ’OK folks, we’ve had a couple resignations, but ... let’s talk about what this means. What does it look like? We’re not looking to shake up the entire organization,” he said.

No other department leaders have resigned since Wanchick was fired, Conrad said.

While he hasn’t asked for any budget cuts, he asked employees to look at the topic as an exercise, he said.

“What I have asked is if we had to cut for some reason, what would a 3% reduction look like? But no one has been asked to cut their budget,” he said.

He said he’s working on visiting county departments and meeting more employees. He’s also planning an organizational review for about six to nine months to see if the county is being a good steward of its resources, he said.

He wants to use data to measure the county’s productivity in areas such as infrastructure, road congestion, capital improvements and staffing levels — things like how quickly the county responds to complaints of a pothole or a broken fence at a ball field, he said.

Conrad said he expects the review to take place this budget cycle.

“So that when we walk into 2021 we have the foundation to build on,” he said.

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