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Executive director search moving slowly in Harrison County

Gulfport — Efforts to find an executive director for the Harrison County Development Commission (HCDC) hit a snag when the county board of supervisors refused to accept the commission’s appointment of Kim Compton as interim director.

The position became vacant when Michael Olivier, who was director for 17 years, accepted an appointment from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

Commissioners say Compton, who served as deputy director under Olivier and is a certified economic development professional, seemed the logical choice until a permanent director can be found. Supervisors must approve any appointments made by the HCDC.

“Our commission feels it will help us retain stability within the staff for Kim to be the interim director and she certainly is capable,” commission president Elmer Williams said. “The supervisors want someone outside the agency to oversee the operations until we can go out and perform an executive search.”

Williams, who’s been on the commission for 12 years, says HCDC’s administrative committee will meet and discuss the matter with their legal counsel in an effort to move the process forward. With Compton, an HCDC employee for a number of years, in place, the commission had hoped to move quickly to select an executive search company to send out requests for qualified candidates who would be screened before submission to the commission.

A meeting with the board of supervisors and mayors was requested to get direction and suggestions. Williams said there were no suggestions from the board, only a rehash of past conflicts between the two bodies.

Franklin Kyle, who’s served on the HCDC for 14 years, said he heard a lot of information but no direction at the contentious meeting. “Serving on the commission has been interesting and it gets more interesting all the time,” he said. “I’d like to be able to say where we’re going but can’t at this time. We’ve got to come together.”

Kyle said it was a natural to the commission to have Compton act as interim director because she knows all the agency’s projects and people involved with them.

“I was disappointed with the meeting with the board,” he said. “I wish we could get on with the process of hiring a new person.”

The development commission members said they acted on the advice of their lawyers by appointing Compton and did not think they had violated any laws.

Williams said the commission hoped to move quickly to fill the position permanently but first must find an interim director who will meet the board of supervisors’ approval. Still, as deputy director, Compton is in charge of day-to-day operations at HCDC.

“Obviously, we want their input and signing off of who we hire,” he said, “and to move this county forward in economic development, we’ve got to have a permanent director who can communicate with the board. All of us want that.”

He said an executive search committee will ask what kind of person the county wants in the role of executive director. The supervisors along with the commission and the private sector will be asked questions in an attempt to determine the qualifications of the person to fill the $100,000-plus salaried position. He lamented that Harrison County in the meantime is missing economic development opportunities.

“I hope that within a 90-day period we will be starting the interview process,” Williams said. “We’d like to have someone in six months but being realistic about it, that probably won’t happen.”

Chevis Swetman, CEO of the Peoples Bank and chairman of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Economic Development Council, says there are too many divergent viewpoints now as to what’s needed and the direction HCDC should go. He thinks an honest assessment is needed about the HCDC job.

“Sometimes we have to go through a painful process and that’s what’s occurring right now,” he said. “The position needs to be clearly defined. A consultant hopefully can redefine what the parameters are but it won’t happen overnight.”

He doesn’t feel the council, a private-sector organization, will have any input but hopes they will stay informed about the hiring procedure. The council is coastwide and tries to sell the region.

“We must pool our resources to grow. That’s the key to the future,” he added.

Supervisors Larry Benefield, William Martin and Bobby Eleuterius were contacted by the Mississippi Business Journal, but did not return phone calls by press time.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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