Pope ascends to manager post

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The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously July 22 to promote Assistant County Manager Taco Pope to become the new county manager, pending successful salary negotiations.

The action was taken during a special weekly meeting called to extend the county’s state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. County Manager and Attorney Michael Mullin told the board they had two choices related to the county manager succession plan: either go outside and begin the review process or promote from within. Mullin stated that Pope, who has been the assistant manager since May of 2019, “would make a great county manager.”

Mullin added, “I recommend that you take that option and that if you do, you extend my term for one more month, only because of Taco’s work schedule with the CARES Act and everything else we’re working on so that he can have the time to negotiate a contract with you.” He said that also would let the Commissioners “look at other county’s compensation packages and to do that in an orderly fashion as opposed to rushing to a deadline of September 1.”

According to the county’s public information officer, Sabrina Robinson, Mullin’s contract as county manager continues past this year, but the commissioners were “pressing him to have a succession plan in place by August.” That prompted the recommendation at the July 22 meeting.

 “Nassau County is my home – it’s where I grew up, where I am raising my kids and where I intend to live out my days,” Pope wrote in a statement to the News-Leader. “I can’t imagine a greater honor than being asked by the County Commission to lead the organization.”

Before becoming the assistant county manager, Pope was director of the Department of Planning and Economic Opportunity. He was succeeded in that position by Adrian Burke, who left earlier this year to join the Dade County government. Valerie Feinberg was then named interim director of Planning and Economic Opportunity in March of this year.

Continuing the change of leadership in Planning and Economic Opportunity, Feinberg resigned from the county government on Friday, July 17, and was replaced as interim director by Thad Crowe, who introduced himself during a County Commission meeting on July 16 as “senior planner” and then at the July 20 meeting as “interim director.”

Amy Bell in the County Manager’s office told the News-Leader that Feinberg “resigned abruptly. She did not give any indication of a new job to anyone in county government.” Robinson told the News-Leader, “There is a lot pressure to that position. She just may not have wanted that.”

Feinberg sent the News-Leader this message via LinkedIn: “I have no comment at this time. I will be staying in Nassau County as I relocated for this position and enjoy living here.”

Early in the July 22 meeting, commissioners heard reports from Dr. Eugenia Ngo-Seidel, the director of the Florida Department of Health – Nassau County, and County Emergency Management Director Greg Foster, regarding the coronavirus pandemic situation in the county.

In addition to providing an update on case statistics, which change significantly daily, Ngo-Seidel told the commissioners that the most coronavirus infections recently “have been among younger folks” but the “most hospitalizations are older folks.”

As she has in the past, she emphasized the importance of wearing facemasks, practicing social distancing, and limiting the numbers in social gatherings. “Now is not the time to let off on mitigation factors,” she added.

Foster told commissioners, “We are working on a couple of programs targeted to the younger generation people” to emphasize the need to wear masks and to ensure they know if they catch the virus they can take it home to their families.

Foster reported that Emergency Management still has 50,000 cloth masks in inventory for distribution, along with 60,000 disposable masks and 10,000 gowns. He also reported there are 60,000 cloth masks in reserve for use at shelters in case of an emergency evacuation, such as for a hurricane. He said his department continues to order testing kits. 

In other actions during the special meeting, the board unanimously authorized Chairman Danny Leeper to sign authorization orders with Proshot Concrete, Inc. for work on two county bridges, one for $52,000 and a second for $113,000. The county is piggybacking on Florida DOT contracts for this work in an attempt to reduce costs. About $26,000 of one contract and $33,000 of the second are for diving work that the FDOT contracts do not cover. The board also authorized Leeper to sign a lease agreement with Galphin Real Estate Services, Inc. for a Nassau Amelia Utilities Billing Office to be located on Amelia Island. The office will handle customer concerns and billing issues. Leeper was also authorized to sign a sales agreement with Comcast Business Services in the amount of $54,000 to cover a three-year period of internet service at three facilities (the Administration Building, the new Fire Station 7, and an extension office). Commissioners were told it would be cheaper and faster to handle the billing if it is bundled.