INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — There are now two finalists for county administrator, but the County Commission pushed its final decision to Tuesday.
After about seven hours of interviews — both individually and before the full County Commission — commissioners Friday deadlocked among their five semifinalists for the job. In a series of votes, commissioners eventually narrowed the field to two: Don Rosenthal, former Pasco County commercial redevelopment project liaison, who is now retired; and John Titkanich, St. Lucie County director of innovation and performance division.
Even getting to that point wasn’t easy. The first vote, in which three candidates tied for second place, was an unusual deadlock, said Colin Baenziger of Colin Baenziger & Associates, the firm hired by the county to conduct the search.
“I hate to say it, but I’ve never seen one like this before,” Baenziger said of the initial results.
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The county launched a national search for a new county administrator after Jason Brown stepped down from the role Dec. 31 to take a job with the Clerk of Court, citing the stress of the job. Brown held the job since 2016.
Rosenthal moves up
In the first vote, Titkanich was No. 1 overall, receiving three votes: from commissioners Joe Earman, Deryl Loar and Laura Moss. There was a three-way tie among Jeff Wilkins, Phil Matson and Dale “Doc” Dougherty, while Rosenthal, who initially was not a clear-cut favorite, received only one vote: from Commissioner Susan Adams.
But in the second vote, which excluded Titkanich, Rosenthal moved up.
Adams stuck with him, and Earman switched his vote to Rosenthal after first casting a vote for Wilkins. Wilkins was administrator of Kendall County, Illinois, for 15 years, and most recently director of administration and treasurer for Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio, Grove City, Ohio.
Matson received two votes — from Loar and Commissioner Joe Flescher — and moved on to the third, final vote.
Matson narrowly misses out
Matson, Indian River County community development director since 2020, was the only internal candidate. He has worked for the county for more than 20 years, primarily as Metropolitan Planning Organization staff director.
He had strong support from Flescher and Loar, but the other three commissioners preferred Rosenthal.
“We need to send a message to all of our employees that if you are dedicated and loyal, 20-plus years knowing the players, knowing the community very, very well,” Loar said, “the message is there’s a chance you can get to the top of this organization.”
Who are the finalists?
Titkanich, in his public interview, highlighted his 18 years with the city of Cocoa, first as economic-development manager and finally as city manager for seven years. He admires Indian River County for its “family-friendly” environment, he said, and envisions bringing more jobs to the county through health care and industrial development west of Interstate 95.
“If you have a really dynamic industrial park that will attract those type of industries, then that would be good, because that will keep people in the county,” he said.
Rosenthal, who also was Pasco County assistant county administrator for five years, talked about maintaining Indian River County’s identity.
“I like how this county is more comfortable, more family friendly, I think, than other counties with much higher density,” he said.
Commissioners at first disagreed on whether to push the decision to Tuesday; Adams’ motion to delay it to next week failed 3-2. But after heated debate over the voting process, the commission decided to hold its final decision.
“I kind of thought we would be a little bit closer, to be honest with you,” Adams said. “If they’re that evenly spread out, I don’t think it’s something we need to rush into.”