Baker named new county administrator

Sussex County Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve county Finance Director and 28-year county employee Dave Baker as Bob Stickels’ successor as County Administrator.

Stickels, who has been the county’s administrative head for 18 years, announced his retirement earlier this year and will leave his long-held post at the end of October. After training with Stickels in the coming months, Baker will begin a three-year contract as the county administrator on Nov. 1, at an annual salary of $110,544.

“I’m humbled and honored to be selected,” Baker said Tuesday. “I’m looking forward to working with county council and the excellent staff. His shoes are big to fill. He’s done an excellent job,” Baker said of Stickels, who supported the appointment.

“I think it’s an excellent choice,” Stickels said. “Dave has over 28 years of public financial experience. It will be a very smooth transition. The employees will be very comfortable with him.”

County officials first hired Baker in April of 1978 as the county’s supervisor of accounts and grants. He went on to take the job as the head of Sussex’s accounting department and was named finance director in 1992. George Cole (R – Bethany Beach) nominated Baker through a motion to be the county’s next head administrator, saying it will be a “smooth transition to the next generation,” quoting the motto of the last Stickels-led county budget, which council also unanimously approved Tuesday.

“I’ve sat next to Dave for many years,” Cole said. “He’s heard all of the crazy personalities. He’s heard the arguments and the issues. I think he’ll do a very good job.”

Praise of Baker continued as the county’s five councilmen voted and expressed support for the county veteran.

“Dave Baker will provide a seamless transition,” Councilman Vance Phillips said. “It’s going to be a smooth transition,” echoed Councilman Finley Jones, adding, though, “I didn’t think as an elected official I’d ever have to replace Mr. Stickels. I thought he’d be like an old dog, and we’d just have to take him out and get rid of him.”

After a stream of laughs generated by the Jones comment, Council President Lynn Rogers read from a prepared statement, expressing confidence in Baker and in the county’s selection technique.

“All four (final) candidates were qualified,” Rogers said after repeating some of his fellow councilmen’s comments about Baker. “The (selection) process was fair and thorough.”

Rogers said that, after advertising the position nationally, council narrowed candidates into a list of 18 qualified applicants. After further review of qualifications, the five councilmen “short-listed” to six candidates and eventually, after a scoring process, narrowed that list to four local qualified candidates for the job.

Ocean View Town Manager Kathy Roth, recently hired Administrative Assistant to the County Administrator Hal Godwin and Indian River School Board member/Delaware State Police executive Randall Hughes, along with Baker, were interviewed by council before they made their selection and announced it Tuesday.

Although they didn’t select Roth, a former finance director for Bethany Beach, for the position, Stickels said that her application has attracted attention to her qualifications and there “may be a place for her” in the future on the county’s staff.

County officials will have to select a replacement finance director soon, but officials said there is no official timetable for the decision.

Tuesday’s announcement and selection of the new county administrator will be the council’s first of many appointments in the next couple of years. Some 14 other county executives are eligible for retirement this year or next. Of those, seven department heads are already eligible for retirement.