Commissioners say they did not know Tobar had been fired from last three jobs
Grady County officials relied solely on a paid consultant and failed to fully investigate the background of the man they hired as county administrator in 2013.
Grady County commissioners said this week they did not know that County Administrator Carlos Tobar had been fired from his three most recent jobs before coming here.
Through public records requests made to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, The Cairo Messenger has learned not only was Tobar fired from these two agencies but he worked at both agencies for less than a year before being terminated.
Commissioners were made aware when they hired Tobar in June 2013 that he had been terminated by the Jeff Davis County, Ga., Board of Commissioners after only 89 days on the job.
The board contracted with former Thomasville city manager Tom Berry to conduct the search for a new county administrator in Nov. 2012 and he was charged with conducting background checks of the finalists.
“This was news to me,” said Grady County Commission Chairman LaFaye Copeland Tuesday. “The only thing we were made aware of was that he was fired in Hazlehurst,” the chairman added.
Vice Chairman Charles Norton also said the board was not made aware. When asked if Berry told them Tobar had been fired from his three most recent jobs Norton responded, “No sir he did not. Tom Berry did not do what he was asked to do. That would be part of a background check. It’s more than financial or criminal.”
Commissioners Elwyn Childs and T.D. David along with former commissioner Billy Poitevint all agree they were not told about Tobar’s terminations.
“We relied on Tom Berry to vet all of the candidates,” Commissioner David said.
When asked if the new information would have made a difference in their decision to hire Tobar, commissioners offered varying answers.
Both Chairman Copeland and Vice Chairman Norton said it would have had an impact on their decision to hire Tobar.
Commissioner Childs said it “could” have made a difference and former commissioner Poitevint said it “probably” would have while Commissioner David refused to answer the hypothetical question.
Commissioner Ray Prince is the only member of the current board who was not involved in the hiring of Tobar.
The Cairo Messenger contacted Tom Berry to discuss his vetting process. The county’s consultant would not discuss issues relating to Tobar specifically, but he said, “the commissioners will tell you the truth about what they knew and what they didn’t.”
Berry said he subscribes to a service that verifies employment, but it would not have indicated if the candidate was terminated or not.
“I didn’t do an open records request,” Berry said.
Berry uses a company called Labor Checks to verify employment, a criminal background check is made and he verified Tobar’s education.
When asked, hypothetically, whether he would recommend a candidate with a history similar to Tobar’s should such a candidate apply for a position Berry was conducting the search to fill, Berry said, “I would really have to look at it.”
Public records from the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority in Florida indicate that Tobar was hired on May 19, 2008 and terminated on Dec. 29, 2008 with a 90-day severance. He was hired as the chief of operations and was paid a salary of approximately $132,000.
Tobar then landed the job of director of mass transit for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority on March 2 2009 and was terminated on Jan. 22, 2010. In Jacksonville, he was paid a salary of $135,000. He was also paid a 90-day severance in Jacksonville.
In records obtained from Tobar’s personnel file from Tampa and Jacksonville, Grady County’s county administrator was cited for similar issues at both agencies prior to his dismissal.
Some of the same issues are areas where Grady County commissioners rated Tobar low in a 2013 job evaluation such as communication, working well with other department heads, and focus.
In Tampa, Tobar was cited for bad decision making and his judgment was questioned. Similarly in Jacksonville, he was written up for a lack of staff communication and organization, his failure to communicate with staff, and for starting projects but not finishing them.
JTA officials extended Tobar’s probation period and also employed a “coach” in an attempt to assist him in developing the skills necessary to manage the city’s mass transit service.
Grady County Commissioners also say they were not aware that Tobar had made so much more than what he is being paid here.
Former commissioner Billy Poitevint said, “All I know is he was making $49,000 in Jeff Davis County.”
Grady County commissioners last year increased Tobar’s salary by 15 percent bringing it up to $80,000 a year.
County records indicate there has only been one formal evaluation of the county administrator since he was hired in June 2013 and that evaluation was done in late 2013 at the behest of then-commissioner Poitevint after Tobar failed to meet the original terms of his employment contract and relocate to Grady County within six months of his employment.
Commissioners say a “verbal” evaluation was done in advance of the board’s action last summer to give Tobar a raise.
Board members say they are preparing to evaluate the administrator in June.
“I can do an evaluation most anytime. As far as I’m concerned I don’t have a problem with him. He has said some things he shouldn’t say and has done things he shouldn’t do, but he’s trying to correct that and do what we ask him to do,” Commissioner Childs said.
“He’s done some good things since he has been here,” Commissioner David said.
Commissioners held another closed door meeting Tuesday morning to discuss personnel, but took no action.
Following the closed session Commissioner Ray Prince said, “We are going to try to make adjustments and see how that goes. We haven’t decided what to do exactly. We are all in a thinking mode right now.”
Commissioner Norton said the auditors will begin work on auditing the county’s books for 2014 in about two weeks and he is anxious to see what the audit shows.
The Cairo Messenger sought comment from Tobar about his previous work experience back in January and he responded it was not “relevant.” The following week he allowed The Thomasville Times Enterprise to interview him and a front page story about his career was published on Feb. 3. The Times Enterprise story by Karen Murphy did not mention that Tobar was fired from his jobs in Tampa and Jacksonville.
Tobar came to Florida in 2008 from Elk Grove, Calif. where he served as the head of that city’s transit system. The Sacramento Bee newspaper reported that a month after Tobar’s departure, the transit system was $2 million over budget.