A big decision: Butler County’s new administrator will manage $423M and hundreds of people

Butler County Commissioners T.C. Rogers, left, Cindy Carpenter and Don Dixon are in the process of finding a new county administrator after the retirement of Charlie Young. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
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Butler County Commissioners T.C. Rogers, left, Cindy Carpenter and Don Dixon are in the process of finding a new county administrator after the retirement of Charlie Young. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The Butler County commissioners are hiring for “the most important job in the county” and the three say they have a few people in mind they would like to “cherry pick.”

The commissioners won’t divulge who is on their list, but there are no immediate plans to open up a national or even regional search for someone to replace retired County Administrator Charlie Young.

Young retired from the administrator position at the end of last year, leaving government after decades of service and returning to his roots in the engineering field. The commissioners have been meeting in executive sessions weekly to discuss the process to find a replacement.

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Commissioner Don Dixon said there are two or three people they have interviewed previously who they believe would do a good job, and they plan to invite them to apply. They won’t reveal who those potential candidates are.

“We don’t want to go out for a national search,” Dixon said. “Ideally we can find somebody that we’ve talked to, that we know or we know of their work. There’s probably a better chance of getting someone with the qualifications we’re looking for if we know they can already do it.”

Two years ago, the commissioners were hunting for an assistant county administrator and more than 230 people applied. The commissioners paused the search in May 2017 and installed assistant Water & Sewer director Sue Vance temporarily. She was subsequently named director of the utility and has since left the county. The search for a second in command never resumed.

“The three commissioners are talking to each other about what we want, it’s going really well,” said Commissioner Cindy Carpenter.

The county administrator is responsible for the $423 million budget — most of it backed with taxpayer dollars — and managing hundreds of employees. But he or she is also the main communicator between the commissioners, other elected county officials, the cities, townships and all other jurisdictions in the seventh largest county in Ohio.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers would not reveal how much the commissioners are willing to pay the administrator — Young started out making $125,000 and left earning $151,755 — but to him a solid manager is crucial, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who has been in government.

“To me it’s a proven manager,” Rogers said. “Somebody that can take the resources and the personnel and be effective in all objectives.”

County Auditor Roger Reynolds said the position is “the most important job in the county,” and from his perspective, money management is a qualification for a new leader.

“All you have to do is look at the numbers, we’ve proven that it works here in Butler County, because we’re getting more done with less,” Reynolds said. “That saying never gets old, and we’re going to continue to foster that approach.”

Young left the county after helping steer it to the pinnacle of financial success with a Moody’s Investors Service bond rating upgrade to Aaa, the highest credit rating. The county has about $50 million in reserves, and a general fund debt — which stood at $92.3 million in 2009 — that will be down to $17.6 million by year’s end with a plan to have it erased in 2020.

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After the county is debt-free, the commissioners have committed to reaching out to other jurisdictions and helping them financially with economic development endeavors. The first recipient will be the city of Hamilton with a $2.5 million investment in road infrastructure for the mega sports and convention development Spooky Nook.

The West Chester Twp. trustees are hoping the county will contribute to a pedestrian tunnel under Liberty Way that would connect the north side of the busy road with Voice of America MetroPark in the township.

“There will have to be relationship-building beyond what’s already taking place,” Liberty Twp. Trustee Board President Mark Welch said. “Communications to develop those relationships. We all work together and a rising tide lifts all boats, so to speak.”

Dixon said there was a bit of a learning curve six-and-a-half years ago when Young accepted the job. He came to the county from a previous position as deputy city manager/general manager for Hamilton municipal utilities.

Liberty Twp. Trustee Christine Matacic, who has been a trustee for 17 years, said whomever the commissioners choose must be able to deal with three bosses and be a quick study.

“Whoever it is has to have good communication skills and a thorough knowledge of the county,” Matacic said. “That can be acquired, but to get up and running as quickly as they need someone to be up and running, they need to have a thorough knowledge of what has been happening, what has happened in the past as well as the direction the commissioners are taking this county in.”