Two community redevelopment agency directors are gone, as is the executive office manager.
The county airports director is holding onto his job by his fingernails.
The county’s medical director faces the distinct possibility that he will be out before his contract expires in September.
Next in the sights of Collier County Commission Chairwoman Georgia Hiller appears to be Lucilla Ayer, the executive director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
The MPO is a local transportation planning organization and it is made up of a professional staff of five, several volunteer committees and a governing board comprising all five county commissioners, two Naples City Council members, a Marco Island City Council member and an Everglades City council member.
Its purpose is to plan transportation projects within Collier County, a job that entails coordinating with state and federal authorities, since they provide millions of dollars for things like roads and airports.
Ayer was hired in 2011. Before that she held the job as MPO director in Hillsborough County and also had worked for the Florida Department of Transportation. Hiller and three other MPO board members made her their first choice among three finalists.
But Ayer has since fallen out of favor with the commission chairwoman as evidenced by last week’s MPO meeting.
Board members completed evaluations of Ayer and gave her generally high marks and positive comments.
County Commissioner Tom Henning said he appreciated the way Ayer credited her team for the accomplishments of the MPO.
“It’s refreshing when staff recognize it is a team effort. Your staff is very productive, at least that’s what I find,” Henning said.
Commissioner Donna Fiala said morale is high under Ayer.
“They don’t feel like they’re under a terrible amount of pressure yet the work they’re putting out of there should bring them way under pressure. I have to credit Lucy for giving them the ability to excel,” she said.
On an evaluation form with 3 being the highest rating, Ayer earned marks of about 2.6 in the six categories evaluated by the board members.
But Hiller declined to fill out an evaluation. Instead she used the occasion to say Ayer hasn’t done much of anything while MPO director. Any positives coming out of the organization have been a result of the staff’s work, not Ayer’s, Hiller maintained.
Hiller also raised the fact that Ayer had recently been in the running for the job of MPO director in Palm Beach County and used that to imply that she was not dedicated to her work at Collier’s MPO. “I’m concerned about your commitment,” Hiller said.
Finally, Hiller, who joined the MPO after her election late in 2010, asserted that the addition of more frequent and thorough cost-benefit analyses for governing board members was done at her direction, not that of Ayer.
It all proved too much for veteran Naples City Councilwoman Dee Sulick, who was quick to come to Ayer’s defense.
Since at least 2008, when transportation funding started to shrivel due to the economic downturn, governing board members had been asking for better cost-benefit analysis, Sulick said.
“It was a concern that was expressed long before you sat on this board,” Sulick told Hiller. “For two years nothing happened. It took her (Ayer’s) direction and her backbone to stand up and say, ‘This is what has to happen.”’
Marco Island Councilman Chuck Kiester cited his former career as an urban planner in Gainesville in praising Ayer.
“It didn’t take me long to recognize the professionalism of our executive director,” he said.
County Commissioner Fred Coyle said Hiller should have provided an evaluation, even if it was critical of Ayer.
I think it is very unprofessional to refuse to give a written evaluation to someone. The public deserves objective explanations of the reasons why we rate our employees the way we do. They (commissioners) should be able to justify it and they should not be reluctant to put it in writing,” Coyle said.
He also defended Ayer’s interest in the Palm Beach County post, a job that Ayer said she’s no longer pursuing.
“Why would you attack someone for pursuing a job that would be an interesting career advancement, particularly considering the way the board of county commissioners has treated employees over there for a number of years?” he wondered.
With one member absent, the MPO governors voted 7 to 1 to accept the evaluation of Ayer, who makes about $95,000 a year. She is in line to receive a 4 percent pay raise as a result of the positive review.
Henning and Tim Nance, the two commissioners who have backed Hiller’s efforts to cut short the contracts of employees such as Airports Director Chris Curry and Medical Director Robert Tober, supported the evaluation of Ayer.
The MPO director is hired by and answers to the MPO board, so Hiller’s lone opposition to Ayer doesn’t appear to put Ayer’s job in jeopardy the way those of Curry and Tober are.
Still, will anyone be surprised if in coming months the roster of departed county directors grows even longer?
(Connect with Brent Batten at firstname.lastname@example.org)