Oel Wingo is the only city manager finalist with city manager experience, having worked as city manager or assistant city manager for four cities in Florida, but she also comes with some concerns, including the fact she got caught up in a political mess in one city.
Wingo could not be reached Friday or Saturday to participate in a more in-depth interview, but The News obtained a copy of her resume as well as report developed by The Mercer Group, the consulting firm that handled the city manager search. The report contains notes from interviews with Wingo and her references, as well as background check information.
The Savannah native said Georgia is her second home and that she is the best fit for serving as the next city manager of Covington.
Wingo’s career in local government began in 1995 when she was hired to serve as the assistant city manager for the city of Ocala, Fla. She served in this capacity until 2000 and then moved on to serve as the assistant city manager for the city of Palm Coast, Fla.
In 2009, Wingo was hired as a full-time city manager for the city of Holly Hill, Fla.; however, during her two years there politics played its hand.
According to reports, Wingo was fired as city manager for the city of Holly Hill in 2010 and an ethics complaint was filed by the city to the Florida Commission on Ethics alleging that she tampered with documents, destroyed public records and entered into agreements beyond her authority.
An approved resolution from 2010 on file with the city of Holly Hill said Wingo misused her official position to enter into employment contracts with senior managers employed by the city of Holly Hill for the purpose of protecting and insulating herself from a possible reduction in compensation and benefits.
The Florida ethics commission found probable cause that Wingo misused her position in 2011; however, the administrative judge for the ethics commission ruled in Wingo’s favor and the charges were dismissed in October 2012. Wingo told The News previously that the charges were "bogus" and mainly an issue of politics.
"I have been cleared by an administrative judge and I have been cleared by the Commission on Ethics," Wingo previously said. "The comments that were made by the commissioners on the Ethics Commission were that the whole charge was bogus and nothing but a political issue.
"It’s just one of those things that you have to go through, and it seems to be happening more and more with public figures."
In 2011, Wingo became the interim city manager for the city of Williston, Fla. when the former city manager Marcus Collins, who served as city manager since January 2009, resigned in March 23, 2011, according to reports from the Williston Pioneer Sun News.
She again found herself filling in as interim city manager for the city of Williston in June 2012, when then-City Manager Pat Miller’s contract was terminated after an investigation surrounding allegations of sexual harassment of two female city employees.
Most recently, Wingo was one of the top four candidates for the city manager position in November 2012, but did not get the position. According to the Williston Pioneer Sun News, the city of Williston considered about 42 applicants to fill its permanent position of city manager.
In December 2012, it was reported that the city council named Scott Lippmann as its choice for city manager for Williston; however, Wingo agreed to stay on and work with Lippmann through Feb. 1, 2013. She would continue to be paid $5,000 a month for her services–the same amount she was paid while filling in as city manager.
Wingo received a doctorate degree in philosophy from the University of Florida in 1992. She received a master’s degree from Southeast Missouri State University in 1976, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida in 1971; however, her majors for the two degrees were not listed.
Some of the several accomplishments Wingo said she was most proud of were developing strong customer service; public education and public relations programs to ensure transparency of government; and enhancing communications and improving relationships with citizens, including a successful quarterly citizens’ academy in Palm Coast, Holly Hill and Ocala.
Wingo currently runs her own management consulting firm.
Leadership and management
Wingo told The Mercer Group that a number of things make a good leader and city manager. Some of those included personal accountability saying that "everyone should know what they are responsible for accomplishing and be held accountable for accomplishing it;" measuring people on results and not activities; and that "no one should be afraid to make a mistake, but each needs to own their mistakes and learn from them."
According to the report, when references were asked to describe Wingo’s strengths, they said Wingo was organized and had a strict ethics attitude; she was able to understand all aspects of all city departments; she had great people skills and good experience in city management; and she was described as very smart, dedicated and hard working.
When it came to Wingo’s weaknesses, references said that Wingo could be stubborn, had very strong opinions, was very smart, thorough and precise, and works quickly, which some believed could be threating in some cases.
Wingo said her strengths were good communication skills. She told The Mercer Group that she worked very well with all kinds of people and understood that everyone has different perspectives about projects and work tasks and that everyone comes to the table with different priorities and objectives. She said she keeps this in mind when communicating tasks that need to be accomplished with positive reinforcement and awareness of what others are working on.
Wingo said her weakness was that she was a workaholic who was dedicated fully to the work she was doing. According to the report, she takes pride in doing a quality job and getting it done on time; however, she forgets to keep a balance between other things and work, which she said she is trying to improve on.
When asked if references would hire Wingo, they stated that they would.
Wingo told The Mercer Group that the reason she was interested in the city manager position in Covington was because the city had good management, a solid visionary organization and uniformity of purpose as exhibited by the staff and council’s decisions and vision.
The report also stated that Wingo felt she exceeded the minimum requirements for the job with more than 15 years as an executive manager in local government.
None of the council member’s spoken to in the past two weeks expressed concern about Wingo’s past, and Councilwoman Ocie Franklin said she believed the council unanimously supported Wingo as a finalist.
Jim Mercer, head of The Mercer Group, said he has known Wingo for a long time and said she has a good reputation in Florida.
"Getting fired as a city manager is not a big deal unless there is some type of moral turpitude, malfeasance in office or something like that," Mercer said. "(Often) it’s just a change on a council, and they want their own person (to be city manager)."
He said Georgia has an above average longevity for its city managers, an experience Covington and Newton County have certainly had with its managers. Mercer said the national average for city managers is about five years. He said Florida tens to have a high turnover rate because of its generally fast growth and subsequent economic troubles more recently.
Mercer said Wingo’s big pros were her experience, particularly dealing with electric operations in other cities, noting that Ocala is one of the best run cities in the state. He said Palm Coast also had a very good city manager; Wingo served as assistant city manager in both of those cities.
Editor Gabriel Khouli contributed to this story.