At times, it seems Worcester County and Ocean City governments intentionally operate in the complete opposite fashion from the other.
The latest example is with word Chief Administrative Officer Gerry Mason will be retiring this summer and that the county will forgo an extensive national search and instead promote Finance Officer Harold Higgins to be Mason’s replacement. It now appears Higgins’ vacancy in the finance office will be filled through an internal promotion as well.
This is an interesting way to go about filling the county’s chief executive officer’s post. There are two clearly unique ways to think about this decision.
On one hand, conducting a national search through either the county’s Human Resources Department or an outside firm would have brought in dozens of qualified hopefuls with experience from other areas of the country. It would allow the county to get a broad picture of outside management applicants while also reviewing any internal candidates who were interested.
By going the internal route and promoting Higgins, the County Commissioners have saved the time and expenses associated with reaching out to other candidates and have assured fluidity to how the county is governed.
Higgins is surely qualified to fill Mason’s seat, but the county should have conducted a national search to fill its most important government post. With Higgins, the county is going to get someone with a similar financial background to Mason and a department head who made it clear this week he admires his current boss and seems to want to emulate him.
We think Worcester County should have conducted a search similar to what Ocean City did when its city manager seat became vacant. While that was a bumpy process, thanks largely to a lame-brained decision by a former council member to call one of the finalists and subsequently compromise his confidentiality, it did give the city a handful of qualified and experienced city managers to choose from.
Ocean City officials have clearly decided national search processes are how they prefer to handle high-profile job vacancies, particularly department heads. Recent hires made after national searches include the new special events director and the soon-to-be-filled police chief. Only with the communications manager, Jessica Waters, did the town promote from within, as Waters held a similar post with the Ocean City Police Department previously and the Recreation and Parks Department previously.
In Worcester County’s case, in typical fashion, Mason’s retirement and Higgins’ promotion was orchestrated and conducted behind closed doors before the public ever even knew Mason was retiring. Clearly, the plan was for Mason to announce his retirement and then a few days later for Higgins to be announced through a press release as his replacement.
We would have preferred to see a national search take place and then if Higgins was still the front runner for him to be promoted. That was not how it played out, and the county is no worse because of it, but change is sometimes good, and we think it was an avenue deserving of pursuing.