UPDATE: Peacor does get selected as CXO.
From what I’m hearing, the next Chief Executive Officer of Prince William County is going to be Melissa Peacor. That might be a terrible choice, and it might be a pretty good one. While Peacor was certainly a central figure in Craig Gerhart’s inner cabal that made such a mess of things over the past few years and bears some degree of responsibility for what has happened, she apparently recognizes the problems and is determined to work with the Board of Supervisors to fix them. With so little information available, it’s really hard to separate her as a prominent figure in past scandalous problems from what she supposedly is committed to doing in the future, making a lot of us who aren’t privy to the selection process rather surprised that after a nation-wide search for a CXO the best person we came up with was Gerhart’s second in command.
A huge problem here is the complete and utter opacity of the selection process, which makes it much more difficult to obtain reliable information about what is going on and who might really be the best candidate for the position. We don’t know who the candidates are. All discussions about the candidates are held within closed session, so all we get are rumors. The only time we’ll find out what happened for real, and we probably won’t ever get the full story, is after the process is concluded. It’s a little late then to find out we could have made a different, better choice. It’s really late then to discover the process itself for recruiting and selecting candidates was flawed and we ended up with the wrong candidates. With no transparency at all, other than what second and third-hand information bloggers are able to squeeze out from their sources, it is extremely difficult for constituents to place their trust in what is happening.
County Government has significant and troubling problems. We’re in the process of prosecuting the former head of the Office of Information Technology for fraud, and after evaluating the budget of that department since his departure we discover seven million dollars in potential savings. Folks have been warning the county for years that the budget for this department made no sense and something was likely going on, but nothing happened until criminal activity was detected. There’s been troubling stories about personnel matters, county employees trying to thwart the decisions of the Board of Supervisors, misuse of county resources, and mismanagement by county employees. While there are a lot of really good people in county government, there’s a need for independent auditors to ferret out some bad players, and those auditors are being kept awfully busy.
Many have argued an outsider with fresh ideas and a different outlook on doing business would be the best choice for this position. Some might believe that someone whose competence is already proven and who “knows where the bodies are buried” already would be in a better position to bring rapid reform where it’s needed. That trade-off between in-house experience and outside independence largely misses the point, however, as neither of those attributes directly relate to the conditions that would improve our local government. Within a few months those “outsiders” aren’t outsiders anymore, so it’s a fleeting quality of little long-term value in and of itself.
What is needed in a new CXO is an eagerness and dedication to look for new ways of doing business. With an utterly horrible budget process well crafted to hide outright theft, should some functions of government be outsourced to produce savings and improve quality? Can accountability be improved by having “secret shoppers” interact with the county’s service agencies to evaluate how employees are performing, rather than depend on the expensive survey of residents conducted each year that produces utterly meaningless data. Maybe there’s even an idea or two out there that would keep Mike Lubely from prowling around the development services building to lobby county staff to help facilitate rezoning the rural crescent into high-density residential development projects. A new CXO should have a wide variety of ideas that could be implemented to produce measurable and meaningful results, and the candidates from either the inside or outside should not only have them, but be able to implement them if the Board of Supervisors agrees to try them.
Unfortunately, the current process of selecting a new CXO tells us nothing about this, and the rumors I hear deal with little other than the “insider” vs. “outsider” issue and who talks the best game during these closed session meetings. It’s really difficult under these conditions to know whether the selection process itself is working here, or whether that process is evaluating and ranking the candidates in a way that will give us the best candidate for the job.
Whichever way you feel about hiring Melissa Peacor as CXO, there’s not a whole lot of time left to provide input to your elected officials so they’ll know how to best represent you. We don’t hire a CXO all that often, so it’s worth it to make sure we get this decision right the first time.
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