Donald E. Elwell, 45, a Spring Lake Republican, grew up in northern Illinois along Lake Michigan, a few miles from the Wisconsin border. At age 18, his family moved to West Palm Beach. He finished college in Florida and moved to Nevada and Georgia for a career in hospitality management. He has lived in Highlands County about eight years.
His qualifications include 20 years of business management experience, where he has managed organizations from 12 to hundreds of team members. He is running for the District 2 seat on the Highlands County Commission.
You'll hire the next county administrator. What will you look for?
Hands-on management style, understanding each team member's role in the county's operation, sits in on department meetings, learns every team member's name, actively involved in county operations; superior financial, budgetary and people skills.
What should be a commissioner's priorities in cutting the budget?
Eliminate waste. Whether the budget is balanced or not, waste in a county budget means tax dollars that didn't need to be collected. Do we need it, should we do it, can we do it better? Each commissioner should become a liaison for the departments.
Is Highlands an urban county or a rural county?
Highlands County is similar to a teenager. Lots of growing pains, lots of angst, a little drama from time to time, and many things to consider in order for this county to reach its full potential. We will never be a Tampa, Orlando, or even Lakeland.
What is the most important issue affecting Highlands County?
The economy. Unemployment is incredibly high, and our people are truly hurting. Businesses are closing, while foreclosures and bankruptcies continue to go higher.
Which decision of the commission would you have made differently?
While I don't believe I'd have voted for the grant funds a few years ago to buy land for Mason's Ridge, I'd have voted for spending the $500,000 for the improvements, since the only other choice was to repay the $575,000 grant.
DCA defines Blue Head and Lake Placid North and South as sprawl. What's your opinion?
I've toured the project. It's massive. It appears that responsible uses of the land are involved. It will be interesting to see what the DCA's ruling is after their recommended remedies have been put into place.
The commissioners were criticized for the way they fired Mike Wright. What should they have done?
The process was managed poorly. The contract appeared to be skewed in favor of the administrator, instead of the county. Secondly, the contract called for an annual review, but one was not done in 2009. There was fault on both ends in this situation.
Highlands County owns an asphalt plant. What should be done with it?
The first financial audit revealed a huge financial loss. While I'm not in favor of us being in the asphalt business to begin with, I would certainly wait until a new audit is completed. If it continues to lose money, look at selling, leasing, shutting down, etc.
The library loans DVDs, CDs, popular novels and shows movies. Which services should libraries provide?
The library represents one of the top wants in the county. I have no problem with patrons accessing the Internet, checking their e-mail, and even visiting social media sites. I don't believe the library needs to compete with Blockbuster.