Finalists Interviewed for Flathead County Trustee
Four finalists for the position of Flathead County Administrator answered questions on Tuesday about their experience and leadership styles of County Commissioners.
Daniel Sabolsky, Pat Oman, Elishia Hayes and Pete Melnick have been identified as the top candidates in a nationwide search to replace County Administrator Mike Pence, who is due to retire on May 31 after 16 years on the job. The county received dozens of applications for the position with the help of a California-based recruiting company.
The administrator is the county’s chief executive, overseeing a budget of nearly $ 100 million and serving as a liaison between commissioners and various departments headed by elected and appointed officials. The salary of the new director will be negotiable up to $ 128,000.
Pence led each of the finalists on a tour of county facilities and introduced them to department heads on Monday before sitting down for 30-minute interviews in a public meeting with commissioners on Tuesday afternoon.
Commissioner Randy Brodehl led the interview of the candidates, asking them about their leadership style, their greatest successes and failures, as well as their thoughts on fiscal responsibility and the role of government. Brodehl and the other two commissioners, Pam Holmquist and Brad Abell, are Republicans and have made it clear that they will not tolerate inflated budgets or administrative bloating.
“We are a very close-knit community. We are also a very independent community,” said Holmquist. “And I will constantly hear, ‘No new taxes’ and ‘Leave me alone’. And I believe in a small government. “
“We have to run the government without creating a new government,” Brodehl added. “And we commit to it. I commit to it.”
At the same time, the commissioners agreed that the county’s rapid population growth would be one of the biggest challenges the next administrator will face.
“We’re running a pretty meager government, and when you get that many people in, you’re going to have to step up your services,” Holmquist said. “And so this is something that we are going to have to work hard on, to provide the services that we have to provide to the community.”
SABOLSKY WAS the first on the hot seat. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in public administration from Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
He began his career in 1998 as the executive director of an economic development agency in Erie County, Ohio, before assuming similar roles in the towns of Sandusky and Lorain. He also worked as a vice president of a local government consulting firm in Ohio, starting in 2009 full time. He also taught as an Assistant Instructor at Bowling Green State before moving to Montana in January 2016 to begin his current job as the City Manager of West Yellowstone.
“Over the years, I developed a knack for finding creative solutions to government problems which were generally, we said, ‘Well that can’t be done’ or ‘Well that would be hard to accomplish’ “said Sabolsky. “I am able to sit down, break down these problems and work closely with my staff to develop solutions to these problems.”
One of the biggest challenges a Montana county administrator faces, Sabolsky said, is figuring out how to retain talented workers and department heads when affordable housing is scarce.
“It’s a job that I think involves a lot of consensus building, a lot of communication, a lot of open discussions,” he said. “And these things are necessary to continue the path the county is following.”
Sabolsky said he directly manages more than 40 employees and an operating budget of around $ 17 million, a smaller operation than Flathead County.
“But I always tell people, whether you have a $ 100 bike or a $ 5,000 bike, you still ride it the same way,” he said.
OMAN HOLDS BA in Biology and History from the University of Minnesota and MA in Manufacturing Systems and Business Administration from the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis.
He began his career in the private sector in 1995 as a facilities manager and product development engineer for Honeywell before leaving in 2002 to take on various positions in local government and economic development in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He recently spent five years as an administrator for Mille Lacs County, Minnesota, before stepping down on Jan.31.
“I have spent 20 years in government administration at regional, municipal and county level,” Oman said, adding that he oversees around 300 employees and an operating budget of nearly $ 60 million in the county of Thousand Lakes.
Oman told Flathead County commissioners he had studied the area.
“I did my research on the position before applying,” he said. “I see a very constructive board of directors, and I see very seasoned managers and department heads. But I also see challenges.”
The main one of these challenges, Oman said, is that the vast majority of Flathead County is federal land – Glacier National Park and Flathead National Forest – which cannot be developed to meet housing demand.
“The question is, in this 7% of land that we can develop, how can we develop it strategically?” he said. “Can we do it in a way that the public will support and the county council will support, and generate wealth for the county?”
HAYES HOLDS a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Humboldt State University in California and told commissioners she started her career in the private sector, selling door-to-door insurance.
After six years as an account manager at a mortgage service company, she went to work for Humboldt County, Calif., In 2011. She started as an income collector, responsible for collecting fines. judicial process, and rose through the ranks to become the assistant. County administrator, second in command she has held since April 2020. She is also treasurer of a non-profit organization that supports cancer patients.
“I’m basically the county financial manager,” she said. “So I do all the budget management for the whole county, from the budget preparation work, to providing all of our departments with the tools they need to develop their budgets.”
Hayes said Humboldt County has a similar number of residents to Flathead, but provides more services and operates on a much larger budget of $ 465 million.
“My organization is more based on a socialist mentality,” she said. “It’s heavy on services for the community. And with that comes warrants that come from the state, and dollars from the states and the federal government, which make up about half of our budget. Our Department of Health and Human Services Social welfare alone accounts for over half of our overall county budget, so I agree that we operate very, very differently. “
However, Hayes said she could easily adapt her government experience to serve Flathead County.
“My value system, I think, aligns a lot more with your value system,” she told Commissioners, “which is part of why I’m exploring an offshoring from California.”
MELNICK HOLDS a BA in Government from the Coast Guard Academy of Connecticut, an MA in Liberal Arts from Spring Hill College in Alabama, and an MBA from George Mason University in Virginia.
He has served in the Coast Guard since 2007, occupying positions in finance, public works, operations, communications and human resources. He has also flown helicopters and was recently an advisor to the deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, according to his resume.
Melnick told commissioners his reasons for leaving the Coast Guard and seeking employment in Flathead County were both professional and personal.
“My wife and I have been married for 25 years. We have six children together. We have moved all over the country. We want to find a home,” Melnick said.
In his human resources role, Melnick said about 10 people report directly to him and he oversees an annual operating budget of $ 26 million as well as a payroll account totaling about $ 5 billion per year.
“I was selected for this position because I am very good at working with people, especially people of different personalities,” he said. “And they really wanted to put someone in that position who would be able to come up with new ideas, but also respect the processes and the policies and the experience of those reporting to me.”
Melnick told commissioners he was not afraid to take on a job in local government.
“I don’t think I’ll have a hard time moving into an administrator role, into a leadership role,” he said. “I’ve been leading people behind the scenes more or less my entire professional career.”
In an email on Wednesday, Commissioner Brodehl said commissioners had not yet determined when they would officially choose someone for the job.
Journalist Chad Sokol can be reached at 758-4434 or [email protected]