About six months after the departure of Jack Brown, the Escambia County Board of Commissioners have hired a new administrator. Pending contract negotiations, Janice Gilley is expected to take over as the county’s top executive this summer.
It’ll be her second go-round with the county and, yet again, she’ll be coming in at a difficult time.
Gilley, who currently works as associate vice president of external affairs at the University of West Florida, beat out four other finalists for the administrator job. She says she threw her hat in the ring to ensure someone in the candidate pool had a very strong interest in the community that she treasures.
“I also thought it was important that if someone had ideas or a vision for the future that they share that,” Gilley said. “So whether or not I ultimately was the final candidate and got selected, it was extremely important to me to have the opportunity to share that vision and that hope for our future as Escambia County.”
Many people might question why Gilley wanted this job now and stayed in the running in the wake of the issues that have surfaced with the county. An investigation into training discrepancies within EMS has led to the resignation of several top staffers, including former EMS Chief Steve White, former Fire Rescue and EMS Chief Rusty Nail, Public Safety Director Mike Weaver, and Interim County Administrator Amy Lovoy.
“I think that the main thing is that I’m a problem solver,” said Gilley. “When I walked into that building in 2002, I was an appointed commissioner and four of our commissioners had to unfortunately go and have their mugshots taken. So, I’ve been part of the county, when it was at a time that it seemed very dire and very desperate.”
Gilley says during her tenure on the board, the county’s budget went from bust to boom and she helped to effect a number of positive changes over the course of a little more than two years.
One of the first issues Gilley will have to tackle when she takes over as administrator is the low morale among county employees, due in part to the EMS fallout. Her plan is to start with a comprehensive review of employee recognition programs.
“There are several ideas I have in terms of making sure we create programs where maybe there’s peer to peer recognition of leadership and just excellence in the staff,” Gilley said. She likes the idea of a LEAD (Leadership, Enhancement, Activities, & Development) team for the county, like the one at UWF for those rising into leadership positions. She believes staff needs to know the value of the work they do, and she’s tossing around the idea of a program called “Operation Thank You.”
“We just don’t say thank you enough,” she said. “I read the employee surveys from last summer and one of the things I found was that they were not looking for recognition from commissioners. They just wanted their supervisors and also wanted their peers to just appreciate the job and recognize the job that they did.”
Looking long-term, Gilley wants to ensure Escambia maintains an environment in which economic development can occur. She points to issues such as deferred maintenance and capital renewal as some of the most critical facing the county.
“Those are things that have to be done or else you’re not going to have proper transportation, because the roads have become dilapidated, or the curbs and gutters aren’t flowing properly and so we have backup and we have drainage issues and things like that,” Gilley explained.
That brings us to “Strive to Thrive in 2025,” which is a sample idea Gilley has for strategic planning within the county.
“We know that whenever you set goals at 20 or 30 years; they get lost, books go on the shelf, you really don’t implement the plans. My goal was to pick a timeframe that we can all see,” she noted of her idea for a five-year strategic plan that would include performance indicators and metrics.
For example, there might be a discussion to determine the goal for emergency response times or to what level projects should be engineered in order to deal with major flood events.
When Janice Gilley reports back to work for Escambia County, her job will be vastly different from the first time around, when she was a commissioner. But, she says she’s ready to embrace her new role behind the scenes as an advisor to current board members.
“They are five very distinct personalities. But, I also think those distinct personalities each have things they want to achieve that will be good for our community and that will be my goal from that perspective,” proclaimed Gilley, adding that another major aspect of the position is ensuring staff implements board policy. “It’s also our job to provide them with every tool they need to make the best policy decision that’s available.”
On the current timetable, commissioners are expected to finalize the hiring with a vote during their May 16 regular meeting. After wrapping up a few projects for UWF, Gilley plans to begin work for Escambia County possibly by the end of June.