Walton County Planning Department - help wanted

Discussion in 'Real Estate' started by SoWalSally, Mar 21, 2005.

  1. SoWalSally

    SoWalSally Beach Fanatic

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    Another planner resigns from Walton County - Tom Blackshear is the fifth planner to leave Walton County since November.
    BY PASHA CARROLL SUN REPORTER

    Tom Blackshear, Walton County?s Senior Planner for long range planning, resigned March 14.
    Blackshear took a job with the Science Applications International Corporation. His new office will be at the Shalimar branch.
    The new job will be working with defense contracts and closely with the Eglin Encroachment Office, Blackshear said.
    Blackshear?s last official day will be April 4. He worked for Walton County for approximately seven years.
    "It was a difficult decision," Blackshear said. "I consider what I am doing now (in the county) a higher calling."
    "I love the county. I love the people," he said. "That?s what makes decisions like this so hard."
    He said the reason why multiple people have left the Walton County Planning Department is because "there is a heck of a lot of work out there."
    Another big part of it is "the burn out factor," Blackshear said.
    The Planning Department is funded for 22 positions and only about 11, including administration, are filled, Planning Manager Kelly Finney said.
    Planning Director Mike Lane, Senior Planner Latilda Henninger, Planning Coordinator Jennifer Christensen and Planning Technician Mary Margaret Stallings have left the department since November.
    The county has hired a new person, slated to start April 1, and others are in the interview process. Finney said advertisements for the positions have been posted nationally.
    Currently there are two plan reviewers. There should be five, Finney said.
    When asked if there is a concern about losing more people, Finney said "there is always a threat that the private sector is going to take planners."
    Finney said Blackshear would be missed at the department.
    "He is just a good person," she said.
     
  2. SoWalSally

    SoWalSally Beach Fanatic

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    From 2/5/05

    Walton County Board of Commissioners put a cap on how many new developments will be reviewed for at least the next month.
    Commissioners limited new projects to be reviewed to six per month, per reviewer in the Planning Department.
    Currently there are only three reviewers on staff. Last month, there were more than 50 new minor and major developments to be reviewed, Kelly Finney, planning manager said.
    In addition to reviewing new development plans, reviewers are also busy doing re-reviews, taking calls and walk-ins and on field calls, Finney said.
    The Planning Department?s excessive workload is due, in part, to being understaffed.
    Recently Planning Director Mike Lane, senior planner Latilda Henninger, planning coordinator Jennifer Christensen and Planning Technician Mary Margaret Stallings left the department.
    "Having them leave is part of this as well," County Commissioner Cindy Meadows said.
    The Planning Depart- ment would have had four reviewers after bringing in a new reviewer April 1, but reviewer Mary Margaret resigned from the department on Feb. 22.
    "A lot of it is the workload, there is a tremendous amount of pressure and stress," Finney said about staff leaving. "It?s a real challenge."
    "Reviewers are working nights and weekends," Meadows said.
    "We don?t want to burn everybody out that works for the county on these things," she said.
    The Planning Department?s workload also got heavier when the State of Florida Department of Community Affair?s returned their recommendations for changes commissioners recently proposed to Walton County?s Comprehensive Plan.
    "It?s the reason I voted against DCA transmittal," Meadows said. "We knew we didn?t have the proper data analysis."
    "It?s something we should have foreseen. Now we have to double up (on workloads)," Meadows said.
    Walton County has 60 days from when the document was returned to the county, which was Feb. 8, to resubmit changes. County officials and the Planning Department will meet with DCA to clarify the state?s expectations.
    Meanwhile, the process each new development goes through will remain extensive.
    "One plan is a lot of work," Finney said.
    Finney said there is a checklist the Planning Department reviewers use to ensure, even with the heftiest workload, all development plans are scrutinized.
    For now, new development applications will be taken on a first come first serve basis.
    "We are still issuing development permits everyday," she said.
    "We recognize the fact that time is money (for developers) and their livelihood is contingent on what we produce," Finney said.
    More staff would help the Planning Department tremendously, but positions there are hard to fill, Finney said.
    "If you don?t have any candidates you can?t increase the staff," she said.
    The Planning Department is going to work with the county human resources department to recruit more reviewers.
     
  3. Cil

    Cil Beach Fanatic

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    Thank you for sharing this, SoWalSally.
     
  4. SoWalSally

    SoWalSally Beach Fanatic

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    You're welcome. :)
     
  5. CiaoBella

    CiaoBella Beach Lover

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    What is the current status on the county's staff levels? I was talking with a friend of mine in Cypress Dunes yesterday and he said the planning manager had just left. Does anybody know what's going on? :idontno:
     
  6. kurt

    kurt Admin Staff Member

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    I don't know who's on staff now but the new director is Pat Blackshear, who was previously with neighboring Okaloosa County.
     
  7. jimmie_2005

    jimmie_2005 Beach Crab

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    Sally seems to know what is going on but just wondering does anyone know if the old planning manager, Finney still works for the county?
     
  8. Smiling JOe

    Smiling JOe SoWal Expert

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    If you are referring to Kelly, yes, she is still there.
     
  9. CiaoBella

    CiaoBella Beach Lover

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    Mrs. Blackshear sounds super qualified and has a great attitude. Do you guys think she can work a miracle and put the planning department on the straight & narrow?
     
  10. bsmart

    bsmart brain

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    I just graduated from the University of Georgia in May with a B.A. in Political Science with a distinction in environmental law and policy and urban planning. Can anyone direct me to the human resources website for Walton County. I have been trying to find some planning work, something to get my feet wet with before I go off to law school in the fall of 2006, at Emory University.

    Thanks,
    Brian.
     
  11. kurt

    kurt Admin Staff Member

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    Here ya go and good luck!
    http://www.co.walton.fl.us/default.asp?ID=10
     
  12. Smiling JOe

    Smiling JOe SoWal Expert

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    I think you should change your code name to IMSMART.
     
  13. bsmart

    bsmart brain

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    hahaha. :lol: Maybe on another board in which I want to appear as a conceited person. Smart is my last name so that is why I chose bsmart as my username.


    ~Brian.
     
  14. CiaoBella

    CiaoBella Beach Lover

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    I would like an "expert" to answer a question for me...I was told that public servants a/k/a Walton County employee... could not work for both the public entity and in the private sector. How is this occurrinng without protest? Seems to be a clear conflict that could result in poor decision-making regarding public issues.
     
  15. Smiling JOe

    Smiling JOe SoWal Expert

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    Where is the problem if they cannot work for both the private and public? :idontno:
     
  16. DBOldford

    DBOldford Beach Fanatic

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    Conflict of interest is a financial term, in the legal sense. A public sector planner would probably not have a financial interest in most work they undertake in their public capacity. However, there is also the perception angle. Most agencies have a clause in their employee contract that explicitly prevents a planner from engaging in consulting work within the same jurisdiction for which they serve as public staff. In fact, some contracts do not allow a senior person (such as a planning director) to go to work for a private sector entity working with that agency for a year after they leave the employ of the public sector agency. Most planning consultants do not do private sector work and simultaneously work as a contract planner for local government within the same jurisdiction. It can be very confusing for the public, as well as for planning commissions and elected officials. And there is always the potential for a planner's analysis and recommendations on one project to have some profound effect on another, or to set a precedent that could translate into other projects before the locale. Really not a good idea and highly unusual for such a situation to exist. But basically, a public employee could get away with this until someone points out the potential for conflict. It is called "moonlighting" and is usually specifically prohibited.
     
  17. CiaoBella

    CiaoBella Beach Lover

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    Thank you very much Donna. You are correct, the rules are so confusing. I suppose that it would only be a problem if someone brought it to the attention of the primary employer.

    To Smiling Joe-I have a doctorate in public administration and myself and colleages have always been taught & told that it is a serious "offense" (if you will) to work on the sly when you are supposed to be serving the public interest and not your own!
     
  18. Smiling JOe

    Smiling JOe SoWal Expert

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    Perhaps I am misreading the rules or your post. The rules seem like good rules, not allowing conflict of interest. Reading your post, you seem to have a problem with the rules. You refer to the rules then in the following sentence relate the rules to why there is no protest. From reading your additional posts, I can only guess that your problem is not with the rules, but with Tom Blackshear going to work for the private sector after he terminated his employment with the public office. :idontno:

    I guess if you knew Tom Blackshear, you would not question any potential for wrong doing on his behalf. That is probably why no one is questioning it. Most of us were very sad to see Tom leave. He has great knowledge of Walton County, and he is missed greatly.
     
  19. CiaoBella

    CiaoBella Beach Lover

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    Sorry that I was not clear...hectic day...I am sure everyone can relate. :blink:

    No, I do not have a problem with Mr. Blackshear. Working for the private sector after severing ties with your public employer is not as questionable in my opinion. Especially if the individual is of very high character. I only have a problem with planners who are currently working for a public entity and profit within the private sector.
     
  20. DBOldford

    DBOldford Beach Fanatic

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    My goodness! I had to read back on this thread to realize that your question related to Tom Blackshear. We talked with Tom on several occasions when in the process of buying our house and I found him to be one of the most objective and informative public planners that I had ever come into contact with. He was very committed to making sure that we, the public he serves, had all the information with which to make an informed decision. In fact, I was rather surprised (yet pleased) that he decided to leave public service for the private sector. The County and its residents are well served by having Tom Blackshear advise developers in the area.

    The caveat in planning directors' work contracts that does not allow them to work in the private sector after public service is largely a thing of the past. It was intended to prevent directors from making biased decisions or recommendations when they might be interviewing for a job with a developer doing work in that jurisdiction. Usually, the caveat stipulated one year from the date of leaving the public agency, if the new employer/developer had had ongoing work in the director's jurisdiction at the time he or she left. One might question whether this was even legal for a public agency to require, for that matter. I haven't seen this caveat in a very long time.

    Tom Blackshear will be a credit to any employer and to the projects that he is advisor on. The County is fortunate to have his wife, Pat Blackshear as director now. Our experience with both was very positive. :clap_1:
     

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