Candidate offered county's top job

The York County Council has pared down its county manager candidates to one Missouri man.

The county made an offer Tuesday morning to Jim Baker, the director of administration and county executive's chief of staff for St. Louis County, a county with more than 1 million residents.

"I'm not that typical person with a degree in public administration," Baker said by phone Tuesday. "Some people wouldn't consider me because I don't fall into that bailiwick."

Baker has an undergraduate degree in chemistry and a law degree. He has worked for St. Louis County for 27 years, running the daily operations of the county. Before that, he was a prosecuting attorney.

York County has been running without a manager since December, when Al Greene resigned abruptly. The county manager is the top government official, responsible for some 800 employees and the county's daily operations. Assistant County Manager David Larson has served in the interim.

The council chose not to use an outside firm for the manager search and advertised the job in trade and industry magazines.

Councilmen individually looked at dozens of applications, then got together and shared their top choices.

"He came to the top of the list," said Chairman Buddy Motz.

Baker had not decided Tuesday whether he would take the York County position, but Motz expected to hear from him today. If Baker declines the job, Motz said the council would go back and look at its entire applicant pool again.

But he hoped Baker would come, Motz said, because he's a good administrator and had impeccable references and a stellar resume.

"He's a great find," said Charlie Dooley, St. Louis county executive, and Baker's former boss. Dooley praised Baker's leadership, ability and knowledge. "Anyone that Jim's going to work with, I think they're going to get a treasure."

Baker became eligible for early retirement this year and is drawing a full pension. That will pay for his two sons' college, he said. Now, he and his wife, both raised in Missouri, are looking to relocate.

He's looking for a desirable place to live and a challenge, he said. They're considering Virginia, Kentucky and Iowa, and Baker is reportedly the finalist for jobs in other areas.

But the Bakers are drawn to the Southeast, he said.

"I'm one of those Midwesterners that's very uncomfortable in cities like Boston and New York," he said. "That Northeastern mentality kind of wears on us. The Southeast feels a lot more like home."

The Bakers had already looked at the Charlotte metro area and Baker saw the York County job was open. He came last week and interviewed with some of the councilmen, and he talked to others over the phone.

York County is an exciting place -- from the friction between the East and the West, to its development of new model communities like Baxter Village, he said.

"We've got all that in the state, but you'd have to drive five hours to get to all of it," he said.

And -- a potentially important qualification -- he's not daunted by the council's infighting, or the intense struggle over certain issues like landfills.

"I suppose it'd be nice if everybody was always on the same page and agreed on everything, but it doesn't happen in real life," Baker said.

During his interviews, he sensed a prevalent feeling on the council: They want to pull together, he said.

"I think they'd like the county manager to be a unifying force," he said. "Hopefully, that's something I can accomplish."