SNOW HILL — The retirement of Worcester County former Chief Administrator Gerald Mason has resulted in a domino effect of in-house promotions, including this week’s shakeup inside the county’s finance office.
Some of those promotions will likely come with learning curves, said County Commission President Bud Church. But Church added that the commission was unanimous in supporting the three promotions that were triggered directly by Mason’s departure and expect a smooth transition this summer.
Mason officially handed over the county’s top appointed position Friday, June 21, to former Finance Officer Harold Higgins. Higgins, in turn, was succeeded by Phil Thompson, his former assistant finance officer. Finally, Thompson will be replaced by former Enterprise Fund Controller Jennifer Swanton.
The cascade of promotions has two major benefits, according to Church. The first is that there will not be any lengthy wait to fill the positions, which would be likely if they were advertised and applications sought. Second, Thompson, Higgins and Swanton are already a “team” familiar with county operations and have spent years working together.
“Harold’s been a team player and we work well together as a team and I think the commissioners’ actions certainly recognize that, and I’m pretty thrilled that the same basic team is going to remain together hopefully into the foreseeable future,” Thompson said.
Thompson has 17 years of experience with the county, serving as enterprise fund controller until his promotion to assistant finance officer in 2004. He has experience in accounting in the private sector and is a member of government finance associations and both the Maryland and Delaware Society of Accountants.
Swanton also has experience in accounting outside of government finance and joined Worcester in 2005 as the enterprise fund controller.
A release from the county described the series of promotions as a “well-orchestrated changing of the guard” and also touched on how the core team will be remaining.
“Thompson and Swanton, along with Higgins and Budget Officer Kathy Whited, are part of the outstanding financial team whose standard of excellence has earned Worcester County Government the GFOA Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for four consecutive years for financial practices that exemplify exceptional financial management,” the release said.
The commissioners unanimously approved the promotions, revealed Church on Wednesday.
“We were confident that we had staff that was available. I’m very happy with the way it worked out,” he said. “I’m happy we had them in place. They’re very competent. They know the system.”
The idea of opening one or all of the positions to an outside search “was discussed,” Church said, but at the end of the day dismissed as unnecessary and time consuming. Thompson complimented the commission on its cohesion and how quickly all of the spots were filled. He said the county tries to build “redundancy” into staffing to some degree so that unexpected departures of high-level employees don’t throw a wrench in the whole operation.
Church confirmed that while there is no specific succession plan carved in stone, the commissioners do consider the future when taking on any employee.
“We don’t have an official plan but when you hire someone you’re looking towards the future,” he said.
Church added that he is “not concerned at all” about the possibility for disruption this summer as the newly promoted become acclimated.