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Escambia Commissioners Fire Janice Gilley

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Sandra Averhart
/
WUWF Public Media

Gilley the latest administrator to be dismissed

Janice Gilley is now a former Escambia County administrator. On a 4-1 vote Thursday, the Escambia County Commission fired Gilley, effective immediately.

“Sometimes, things just don’t work out the way you hoped; I believe she went into it with the best of intent, I certainly believe that,” said Commissioner Steven Barry, who had sought the decision. “I know that I went into this with the best of intent; even when folks do that, sometimes things don’t work out.”

Barry’s request to put Gilley's contract up for debate came as he was under the microscope — for seeking back pay for commissioners and senior-level officials — who he claimed were not informed of a sweetheart county retirement plan.

“From my point of view it’s just not a good fit and it’s just not working and I wanted to have that conversation with ya’ll,” Barry said. “I don’t know what my colleagues think, but now is the time that I kind of need to know that. We had a long conversation [Wednesday] that was very polite, very professional; it went as well as I could have hoped.”

“You’re doing it right, and the only question for Escambia County is whether or not we have the courage to continue the evolution of this county from its corrupt past, into the Escambia County that we all know and say that we want to be,” said Commissioner Doug Underhill, who was the lone vote supporting Gilley.

He addressed her directly with his remarks.

“[Whether] your term is coming to an end or if you’re going to be here for another five years, I will tell you this: you have stood the watch with honor,” Underhill said. “And I am proud to have been able to serve with you, and I am proud to continue to serve with you every day that you’re still here. That’s my evaluation of your performance for the last year.”

Gilley became county administrator in July, 2019, following a six-month search to fill the position after the retirement of Jack Brown. Commissioner Jeff Bergosh says he was impressed with Gilley’s interview, but conceded that she was his second choice.

“The gentleman from Cincinnati had just a wealth of experience, years and years in a giant county,” said Bergosh. I thought he would have been a great fit because of the fact that he was not so ingrained in the community, [so] he could make decisions that maybe were a lot more difficult, that perhaps someone ingrained in the community couldn’t make.”

But despite the episodes with Gilley — and a couple of other past administrators who were dismissed — Bergosh remains supportive of an appointed, rather than an elected, administrator.

“It works, it fits,” Bergosh said. “No one’s perfect. I like to praise in public and punish in private. We just had a couple of situations that were very, very intense, [but] I think we hit the right resolution on both of them. But, those were areas that I feel like those sorts of issues could have been handled differently and I wish that they would have been handled differently.”

After the vote, the commission heard from Janice Gilley, who expressed her gratitude for being given the chance to serve as administrator.

“I’ve had the honor to serve for the past two years an amazing team of directors, hundreds of employees, and many committees in support of services for our community,” said Gilley. “And for that I do think the board [of commissioners].”

She added that there are many stories during her tenure that she will carry with her.

“I will never forget asking for live munitions to scuttle a barge [during Hurricane Sally] when we thought the barge was headed for the I-10 bridge, and we already knew that the other bridges had already been hit.”

On a more serious note, she spoke about the celebrations of the county’s summer youth program, and now taking her place on the county sidelines.

“Seeing the hope for the future in those young people is absolutely amazing,” said Gilley. “I would say while much has been accomplished there is still much to do to bring this county and its operation into the 21st century. And I do look forward to watching that progress. And as I’ve stated many times before, this is my home and I love it.”

On another 4-1 vote — with Doug Underhill again the dissenter — the commission named deputy county administrator Wes Moreno to fill the top post on an interim basis. Moreno is also the county’s Public Works Director.